Culture/Style

Angela Ponce just made history as Miss Universe’s first transgender contestant

From Miss U.S.A.'s xenophobic comments, to Ponce's debut as Miss Spain, this year's pageant felt like a microcosm of 2018's biggest conversations.

December 17, 2018

Last night’s Miss Universe pageant made history as the first event to feature a trans model in Miss Spain’s Angela Ponce. Ponce’s inclusion in the event was just one part of the pageant’s attempt to overhaul itself to be more inclusive and tolerant in the post-#MeToo era, an initiative that includes an all-female panel of judges along with selecting plus-size model and body positivity spokesperson Ashley Graham as host.

The actual proceedings of the pageant, however – which saw an early exit from Ponce and a final-round spot by Miss U.S.A. despite a number of xenophobic comments – suggest that the ideas of inclusivity that the fashion world has been grappling with in 2018 remain a work in progress.

While Ponce used the Miss Universe platform to share a crucial message with the institution: “You can empower yourself like I have, and turn something negative into your biggest strength,” she said during the telecast.“Who hasn’t suffered from prejudice? Who hasn’t had to deal with bullying?”, her presence was juxtaposed with the openly regressive behavious from Sarah Rose Summers, Miss U.S.A.

Summers came under fire earlier this week for a number of racially-coded and xenophobic comments regarding the other contestants and their embodiment of the very diversity the pageant is attempting to promote. In the Instagram stories below, Summers can be seen belittling fellow contestants from Vietnam and Cambodia for their aloofness stemming from a lack of understanding English:

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Regina George, is that you? This is basically like the most dramatic reality show, but condensed into 1 minute lol. @sarahrosesummers hopefully will prove that ignorance will not win you a @missuniverse title…whatever that means these days. This is basically what normalized xenophobia looks like. If she’s trying to show empathy, the condescending, intolerant tone tells a different story. A reminder that you’re participating in a competition in a country/continent where English is NOT the primary language. Cc: @francesca.hung @valeriamoralesd @rern_sinat (Miss Cambodia) • #sarahrosesummers #rernsinat #valeriamorales #francescahung #missuniverse2018 #missuniverse #missworld #missusa #missaustralia #misscolombia #beautyqueen #beautypageant #pageant #pageantlife #missamerica #wiwt #ootd #realityshow #meangirls #reginageorge #gossip #catty #lol #wtf #dietprada

A post shared by Diet Prada ™ (@diet_prada) on

Despite their comments and perspectives placing Ponce and Summers on opposite ends of the diversity spectrum that Miss Universe seems eager to promote, Miss Spain did not make in into the final 20 contestants, while Miss U.S.A. managed to hold on until the final round. The presence of both of Ponce and Summers at this year’s Miss Universe pageant offer a sobering glimpse that efforts from pageants such as Miss Universe to embrace inclusivity still have work to do.

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