Miss South Africa CEO, Stephanie Weil, on why inclusivity + representation are important for the celebrated decades-old pageant.
Words by Jamal Grootboom | Images: Getty Images
Beauty pageants have been around for decades and in many countries, they are significant events that attract many women who enter in the hopes of walking away with the title.
When it comes to the pageantry scene, there has always been a mixed bag of feelings about whether judging women based primarily on a set of beauty standards is still something that should be supported.
In recent years, there has been a shift in balancing judging contestants’ intellect and beauty. Along with this, calls for a wider range of women both in identity and body types have pushed pageants to either adjust with the times or be left behind. Locally, we’ve seen this not only be lip service but made a reality with Sasha-Lee Olivier’s reign and two-time top 30 finalist Lehlogonolo Machaba, an open transwoman.
Over the years, Miss SA winners have become household names, and some of them, international title holders.
While the organisation has had various owners in the past, it’s currently housed by Weil Entertainment which bought the rights to Miss SA in 2019 from Sun International. This ended up being the year Zozibini Tunzi was crowned, capturing the hearts and minds of South Africans, and later taking home the Miss Universe crown.
As the proud official fashion and furniture partner of Miss SA 2022, Superbalist had a chat with the pageant's CEO, Stephanie Weil, who is the woman behind the newfound relevance the pageant has gained in recent years.
On the topic of relevance in an era where women find empowerment beyond just their looks, Stephanie says, “our goal has been to be more inclusive and embracing of all members of society.
"Miss South Africa will continue to recognise the innate potential in young South African women and will provide both the tools and the platform to augment and shape this inbuilt talent into a leader who embraces her self-worth while inspiring others and creating a real social impact.”
She adds that “Miss South Africa is a celebration of women, and we truly believe that the contest is more relevant than ever.
"It embraces a young woman who works hard, is dedicated to helping others, is a voice to her fellow countrymen and shows them that they too can chase their dreams as long as they work hard and give as much as they can along the way.”
When it comes to beauty standards, it would appear that the world is gradually evolving and is seeing women as multifaceted beings and not only applauding them for their physical appearance. As a result, pageants have had to evolve with these changing viewpoints and values too.
The Miss SA pageant prides itself on its participants being role models. Stephanie's definition of this is “someone others look to as a good example and someone who is worthy of imitation.”
She further expresses that each person who enters the competition has their own beliefs and passions and [the Miss SA organisation] encourages this.
“The most important thing is to be authentic. Never change your authentic being.”
Miss SA is one of the biggest annual events and stays a trending topic online. Stephanie says the reason for it still being such a valued occasion is that “it is both inspirational and aspirational and it really does change lives.”
Sharing how Miss SA has been able to keep up with society becoming more progressive, the CEO explains that she thinks "people realise now that it is so much more than just a pageant. As Rolene Strauss has said; 'it is the ultimate movement towards women empowerment.’
“The platform creates opportunities for so many. And what they achieve in turn motivates so many people in this country.
“We’ve been hearing from the 2022 top 10 finalists. For many, it has been a lifelong dream – since they were young girls – to enter this pageant one day. They have been inspired by the past winners. It taught them that they had the right to dream big and that with commitment and dedication big dreams can come true.”
AUTHENTICITY IS KEY
Making it into the top 10 of the pageant takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. While each contestant has something special about them, according to Stephanie, to become a finalist, they have to be “passionate, articulate and authentic.”
The winner of Miss SA, in many ways, is an ambassador for the country as she not only competes in international pageants but also attends and speaks at many events, both locally and internationally. As such, representing a wide variety of people plays a huge part in who eventually wins the crown.
Speaking about what the future holds in terms of representation for Miss SA, Stephanie Weil says, “the world is finally opening up to the changing beauty standards and understanding that beauty is not a one size fits all. We hope that the Miss South Africa Organisation will continue to play a role that can act as a catalyst for this.”
“At the moment, there is no global pageant governing body and, to an extent, leading international pageants that we send Miss South Africa winners to, dictate pageantry standards."
"However, we hope to become thought leaders in the industry, and this way we can achieve this by starting somewhere. Our ultimate goal is that women in South Africa can identify and see themselves reflected in all those who enter the competition.”