It was so much bigger than a pageant!
Jennifer Hosten made history at the age of 23 during the 1970 Miss World contest when she became the first Black woman ever to be crowned with the title since its inception in 1951. Representing a smaller country, she was particularly proud of her accomplishment as a Black woman. However, her historic win was marred by political unrest. With the backdrop of the Vietnam war, South African apartheid, and the British feminist uprising, the London competition was looked at as anything but favorable, and Hosten was catapulted into the middle of a political moment that would shape the rest of her life.
Still, she sojourned on, using her platform as a springboard for political work across the globe. More than 50 years since her win, Hosten is elated to see the array of representation in pageant competitions like Miss Teen USA, Miss USA, and Miss Universe. Still, it bothers her that all these years later, women are still reduced to beauty as their primary commodity and Black women winning pageants are still newsworthy.
“Women should not just be thinking of ways in which physical beauty can benefit them. There are many other ways in which women can shine…The fact that we’re still talking about [women of color winning pageants] as if it’s an anomaly tells me that we have much further to go,” Hosten told TIME magazine.
Here’s everything you need to know about Jennifer Hosten, the first Black woman crowned Miss World, courtesy of jenniferhosten.com:
She grew up in Grenada.
“Jennifer's childhood was spent in the heart of the tropics, in Grenada's capital city of St. George, with parents Lyle and Phyllis Hosten with her four siblings. A warm and bountiful childhood, these years proved to shape Jennifer's character.”
Hosten made history as the first Black woman to be crowned Miss World.
“In 1970 Jennifer represented Grenada at the Miss World Contest in London and ended up winning the competition. The popular event was seen by over 100 million viewers around the world, a few factors making it particularly memorable. For one, Jennifer was the first woman of color to take the title. However, the contest was also held when the anti-apartheid movement was at its height, resulting in South Africa sending two representatives to the contest - one black and one white.”
The competition was interrupted by Women’s Liberation Movement protestors.
“The night of the competition saw the women’s liberation protesters, including [Sally] Alexander and [Jo] Robinson, sneak into the Royal Albert Hall venue incognito, with flour, vegetables and flyers in their handbags, ready to launch the protest when all the Miss World contestants were on-stage...The women said that their intention was to criticize the contest organizers, not the contestants, and that staging the protest that way would have maximum impact on the night. Yet the protesters became infuriated when host Bob Hope started telling misogynistic jokes, and they decided to launch the protest early while Hope was doing his bit, putting a pause to the proceedings for about 15 minutes,” TIME reports.
“I saw [the contest] as an opportunity, to travel, to represent Grenada, and to make some money if I won. I had some very pragmatic expectations. I saw it less as objectification, but I think that some of the experiences during the contest made us think that way for sure. When I first arrived, it wasn’t my thought that I was being exploited. If I had thought that, I wouldn’t have taken part,” Hosten told reporters.
Hosten continued with her Miss World duties, touring the globe.
“As Miss World Jennifer traveled to Vietnam and the far East, entertaining US troops with Bob Hope and other celebrities. Her travels took her around the world several times. Notable tours were New Zealand and Australia. She also visited Europe, Africa, the USA, South America and the Caribbean.”
She went on to become a diplomat and author.
“Jennifer has…[worked] in broadcasting, serving as Grenada's High Commissioner to Canada, working as a Canadian diplomat to Bangladesh, becoming a technical adviser on trade to the St Lucia-based Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and owning her own business. At the time she won the Miss World competition Jennifer was working as an air hostess…[She] now has two master's degrees, one in political science from which she had practical experience from her time as a diplomat, and one in psychotherapy from which she was able to draw on personal experience. With a personal interest in the topic, Jennifer published the book The Effect of a North American Free Trade Agreement on the Commonwealth Caribbean for her first Master's thesis.”
A film about the 1970 Miss World competition was made starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Hosten.
According to TIME magazine, “In 2010, Jennifer received a call from the BBC, asking if she would participate in a radio broadcast interviewing all the key participants of the 1970 pageant, including Alexander and Robinson. It was the first time she had met the activists, and while she writes that she found them intense during the interview, ‘despite decades of being placed in opposition to one another in the narrative that resulted from the 1970 pageant, we found we had more in common than expected.’ It was that reunion program that caught the attention of producers and led to the making of Misbehaviour…a new film by director Philippa Lowthorp…starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Hosten.”
Thank you for trailblazing a path Ms. Hosten! Because of you, we can!
Here’s everything you need to know about Jennifer Hosten, the first Black woman crowned Miss world. Jennifer Hosten (center) after being crowned Miss World at the 1970 Miss World contest. Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Hosten/Sutherland House Books/TIME