A photographer’s radical vision of a Black lesbian beauty pageant


In pageants around the world, beauty and femininity ideals have long been upheld and rarely challenged. A photograph by the artist Zanele Muholi is a bold declaration of Black queer beauty — and a reminder that the status quo of mainstream beauty pageants has remained mostly unchanged. In the striking self-portrait, the South African artist stands proudly in silver platform heels and a red-white-and-blue swimsuit, with a tiara in their hair. A wide white sash across their body is emblazoned with the words “Miss Black Lesbian” — a nod to a real pageant for Black queer women held in the late ’90s titled Ms Sappho, according to the artist. Muholi, then in their late 20s, was a finalist in 1997 at the event, which was held in their home country.

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