People told Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi to wear a wig for the Miss Universe pageant. She won wearing her natural hair.

Benjamin Askinas/Miss UniverseMiss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi.
  • Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi took home the Miss Universe crown on Sunday night.
  • She is the first black woman to win the pageant since 2011 and the first woman to do so with natural afro-textured hair.
  • Tunzi told Insider that many people, including her friends, told her she should wear a wig or weave for the competition.
  • But Tunzi, who has worn her hair natural for three years, didn’t want to change herself for the pageant. She said she wanted to show that “beauty does not look one certain way.”
  • “It extends to more than just hair,” she added. “It’s about accepting yourself for who you are and how different you are. I hope it just inspires women to be themselves, their authentic selves.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Look through the winners of Miss Universe from the past few decades, and you may notice a common trend: whether their hair is blond or brunette, red or black, their locks are almost always long.

That changed Sunday, when Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi became the first woman with natural afro-textured hair to win the Miss Universe title. She was the first black woman to win the pageant since 2011 and also the first black Miss South Africa to wear the Miss Universe crown.

While Tunzi has been praised for her advocacy of natural beauty during the competition, the pageant queen told Insider that many people initially tried to persuade her to wear a wig instead.

“A lot of people did,” she said. “And it was so strange because even a lot of people I knew, people that were my friends, were like, ‘Sis, we love you, but we’re just saying, maybe you should put on a wig or buy a weave.'”

Miss south africaMiss UniverseMiss Universe Zozibini Tunzi.

Zozibini Tunzi had been wearing her hair natural for years. She knew she didn’t want to change herself just for the pageant.

“I was like, ‘No, you know what, I’m going to do it the way I am, because I’ve been with my natural hair for the past three years,”‘ she said. “I don’t see why I should change it just because I’m stepping into another platform.”

Tunzi said she wasn’t offended by her friends’ words, though, adding that they were just repeating what “society has taught us and engraved in our minds for such a long time.”

“In the past, I think that beauty has been stereotyped to look one certain way,” she continued. “When you open a magazine, that’s what you see. When you open television, that’s what you see. And it becomes embedded within society and ourselves.”

Miss Universe Zozibini TunziBenjamin Askinas/Miss UniverseTunzi in a makeup-free portrait.

But Tunzi has tried to challenge that stereotype with her platform, wanting to show women that “beauty can be anything.”

“I’m saying beauty does not look one certain way,” she said. “I’m telling women, you can be beautiful too if you want to. You can stand up and say ‘I’m beautiful the way that I am, with the shape that I am, with the skin colour that I have, with the freckles that I have.'”

“Anything that is considered unusual and unconventional can still be beautiful too,” she added. “That’s why I feel so proud about this win.”

Miss Universe Zozibini TunziAlex Mertz/Miss UniverseTunzi being crowned Miss Universe 2019.

Tunzi said she didn’t begin wearing her hair natural to make a statement. She said she had just grown tired of sitting in a salon chair for hours and wanted something new.

“I decided, no, this is not worth it,” she recalled. “I decided that I just want to go for a different look. I’m going to cut my hair and see how it looks from there. And I just remember looking into the mirror and loving it.”

Yet she had been nervous before getting the cut, scared of what people would think when she didn’t look like the women on television or inside the pages of a glossy fashion magazine.

“Before cutting my hair, I did have to think about it,” she said. “I was so scared of not looking beautiful when I see myself in the mirror, of people not considering me attractive anymore. And that’s when I realised that we are so scared of people’s opinions, and that needs to stop.”

“Because once you start feeling that love within you and loving yourself, everything else will follow,” she added. “I cut my hair, and I’ve never looked back.”

Miss Universe Zozibini TunziAlex Mertz/Miss Universe

But Tunzi doesn’t believe that living authentically means you can’t wear a wig or a weave. It’s more about making choices for yourself, instead of society or anyone else.

“It extends to more than just hair,” she said. “It’s about accepting yourself for who you are and how different you are. I hope it just inspires women to be themselves – their authentic selves. If your authentic self is wearing big purple hair and that’s who you are, embrace it! And say, ‘My perfect self is my big purple hair.'”

“That’s my message,” she added. “My message is not to say to all women, ‘Cut your hair, take off your weaves,’ no! My message is, ‘You are who you are.’ And if that’s your true authentic self, then don’t be shy about it.”

Miss Universe Zozibini TunziAlex Mertz/Miss Universe

She’s about to spend a year travelling the world, but what Tunzi most wants to accomplish as Miss Universe is staying true to her message – and herself

“By remaining myself authentically and speaking my truth and believing in my truth all the time, I’m hoping that it’s going to help someone stand for theirs as well,” she said.

Tunzi sees change happening like a domino effect, and she believes that being a positive example helps pave the way forward for others.

“By being ourselves and speaking our stories, we give others permission to want to speak about theirs as well and then they, in turn, inspire others,” she said.

“So I think that’s what I’m hoping to do,” she added. “Because if you touch at least one life, then you don’t know what that person is going to do, they might touch two lives and then it becomes a whole cycle. Then I’ll know that I was part of all this positive, amazing change.”

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