Monday, March 24, 2008

WE PEOPLE - Miss Jamaica Universe and her hair

By Natasha G. Samuels

Zahra Redwood, 25, is the first Miss Jamaica to be crowned from the country’s Rastafarian faith and the first contestant to compete in the Miss Universe pageant with dreadlocks. While the University of West Indies graduate certainly met the standards (intelligence, articulate, beauty, cultured), her win symbolized acceptance (finally) of the countries minority religious sect.

Rastafarianism emerged in Jamaica in the 1930’s as a result of an interpretation of a Biblical prophecy based on the coronation of Ethiopia’s former Emperor, Haile Selassie I. Reggae artists such as Bob Marley brought the religion’s message of peaceful coexistence marijuana use and African repatriation to the world in the 70’s. Despite their positive contributions to Jamaican culture, Rastas’ have not always been accepted due to their traditional appearance and marijuana rituals. Zahra’s win was a victory for Rastafarians all over the world. Her crowning and participation in the Miss Universe pageant also brought relief to black women whose subjection to the good hair bad hair debates left psychological scars on their self-esteem.

During the live televised Miss Universe contest, it was amazing to see the “vilified” hair streaming down the shoulders of this confident black sister who embraced her hair not because she was trying to make a statement but because this is who she has been from birth. As a result, Zahra never considered that her hair would hinder or aid her chances in the pageant. In an interview with the Jamaican Observer shortly after her April 2007 win, Zahra said, “I really didn’t think of it at all. I am a package; my hair is not a separate entity…so I entered based on the characteristics that all contestants were asked to have, and I fit those.”

There was a lot of media focus on Zahra’s and Miss Tanzania (Flaviana Matata, who was hairless,) because the two contestants didn’t exactly fit the mold of traditional contestants who compete with coifed and fluffed manes of hair. Regarding comments that hers and Miss Tanzania’s entry changed the face of the pageant---she said “change is inevitable, so naturally something like this would have had to happen.” The questions (much of it from the international media) regarding her hair are not new to her either. In a recent interview with WE Zahra said, “from ever since I’ve been growing up I’ve been getting those kinds of questions. I’m just so used to all of that.” She said the questions regarding her hair started since primary school days and came from teachers, students, or people on the road. “I’ve just become accustomed to responding to those questions politely that right now it’s not a huge difference. To international persons locks is a part of the identity of a Jamaican so it actually never matter whether or not, as a matter of fact when you do have locks as a Jamaican the international forum actually sees you as an authentic Jamaican and that was the feed back I was getting when we first made our presentations of our costumes,” she said.

Despite the media attention, she says she was not disappointed in not reaching the coveted top 15. “In everything you do, there must be something gained from it,” she said. She is however satisfied that she was able to make an impression and that she was able to inspire greater self-esteem and awareness in black people and black women.
Currently, Zahra is juggling her busy schedule as Miss Jamaica with a new position as a Medical Representative for Astra Zeneca Pharmaceuticals in Jamaica. She is planning to publish a book, which will showcase her most glamorous hairstyles, which she styles herself. Her reign as Miss Jamaica ends April 2008.

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