Zozibini Tunzi opens up about the bittersweet joys and challenges of being Miss Universe

2020-02-09 18:35

It’s been two months since she was crowned Miss Universe, but it hasn’t been an easy ride for her as she still has to wake up every day knowing she will have to try to convince people she deserves the title.

“This is the reason I’ve decided that actually I don’t have to do that convincing. I just wake up and acknowledge that I am here in this position. The obvious initial obstacles were around the colourism and the racism I faced stepping onto the platform, and which I still face today,” says Zozibini Tunzi.

The newly crowned Tunzi took a moment to give City Press a peek into her life as Miss Universe while she was briefly – and undercover – in the country recently for a campaign shoot at the iconic Market theatre in Johannesburg.

The 26-year-old from Tsolo in the Eastern Cape says the backlash is always present. She explains that there have been nasty comments, full of racial slurs, made on photos of her posted online.

But Tunzi says there have been more positives than negatives, the latter including the challenges of being far away from home.

“I love home, my family and country, so sometimes being so far away is a bit challenging. But this is an exciting journey and I’m so happy. It’s a job and so it has challenges just like any job.”

Tunzi was among the 20 personalities who participated in the latest Woolworths campaign, Catch the Feels, set to be launched next month.

Moving from a hot South African summer to a winter the likes of which South Africa has never seen, Tunzi says she’s handling being a newbie in icy New York well by rocking a cute pair of boots, paired with coats, as her go-to winter fashion staples.

The personal is political

The warm and friendly Tunzi opened up about her personal politics around being celebrated as a dark-skinned black woman with natural short hair – essentially defying mainstream society’s perception of who is worthy of participating in the world of beauty pageants across the globe.

“To be honest, it’s a bittersweet feeling – sweet in the sense that I’m honoured to be able to carry out this message and say there’s a different type of beauty that wasn’t celebrated before and now here we are.”

But it’s also bitter for her. She questions why she has to be celebrated for winning the title as a dark-skinned woman.

“Why does it have to be a thing? And why do I have to give reasons for keeping my hair this way?”

Ultimately, Tunzi passionately wants to know why it is necessary that she has to keep on convincing people that she’s beautiful too.

She’s hoping that society and people can get to a place where her “difference” becomes normal.

New York, New York

She thought that by moving to New York she would be in a place where “no one would care and no one would notice, because it’s a city of stars. But people definitely have noticed and taken the time to congratulate me and share that joy.”

Tunzi’s almost two-month reign as Miss Universe 2019 has been life altering.

She excitedly talks about the responsibilities as well as the positives and negatives that she has already experienced in the job during the time she has been doing it.

“I think my biggest responsibility as Miss Universe is awareness, advocating things that I am passionate about and speaking about them so that people are influenced by that.”

Her job entails working with projects that the global pageant has been partnering with for years, such as the charity Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft lip and palate charity that helps raise awareness of the issues faced by children living with untreated clefts in the developing world.

“This is the main project, but they also want to see what I am passionate about. So that’s really my job – being a spokesperson and the face for the Miss Universe brand.”

The evolution of Miss Universe

The crown of Miss Universe has changed only nine times over the course of its 67-year history.

She believes that as recently as two years ago someone like her would not have made it to the top 20 of the Miss Universe competition.

“The industry has been putting out how people must look and that’s changing now. I usually say beauty pageants are what you make of them, it’s what the winners make of that situation and it’s changed because I decided to step up. Women before me stepped up and tried to fight this and tried to be included.”

She says that in order to effect change people have to be real about things.

After only making it to the semi-finals with her Miss SA crown attempt more than two years ago, to now holding the most esteemed pageant crown on the planet, she says: “People are starting to wake up to representation and inclusion and are starting to realise that they are tired of not seeing themselves in spaces – they want substance and to relate to things. My motivation really comes from my younger self. I remember growing up and just wanting to make a difference and wanting to be a part of such a big change as well as be a catalyst for positive change.”

She says that not having many role models as a young dark-skinned black woman growing up was not because these role models didn’t exist, but “because they weren’t being shown to us in a positive light”.

Her inspiration is to show young girls that there are people like them achieving their goals and dreams.

When asked about the kind of legacy she wants to leave behind she says she wants to be remembered as someone who came into this space and was herself unapologetically and who never compromised on who she was.

“I want people to look at me and feel that they, too, can just exist as they are without trying to please the whole world by compromising themselves.”

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March 29 2020