A misjudgment for Miss Jamaica

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not know a lot about beauty pageants. I am not in any way, shape or form an expert. I do know, however, that on Sunday Jan. 25, the Miss Universe Pageant took place and 22-year-old Miss Colombia Paulina Vega won the crown. I also know that the decision to give it to Vega was the wrong one—at least according to many angry tweets and my Facebook friends. Miss Jamaica Kaci Fennell was expected to fare very well, and she did just that. Shockingly, she finished as the fourth-runner-up.

Fennell receiving fourth-place sparked international backlash. Miami-based Hispanic businesswoman Diana Pedroni tweeted, “The booing after #MissJamaica’s leave has been the strongest in #MissUniverse’s modern history.” Even pageant director and blogger @thePageantGuy implied that contestants that he talked to after the show “thought [Miss Jamaica] should’ve won.”

I can see why there was so much uproar. Fennell is a very well-spoken woman. She highlighted the “raw spirit of [her] people” as one of the best parts of Jamaica. As someone who has studied abroad in the country, I very much agree with her assessment.

During one of the most scrutinized portions of any pageant, the question portion, I thought Fennell performed much better than Vega. Submitted by a fan via Facebook the question was, “What is the greatest contribution of your country to the entire world?” Despite a slight slip-up at the beginning, Fennell cited sprinter Usain Bolt and reggae icon Bob Marley as Jamaica’s greatest contributions.

Like Fennell, Vega started awkwardly, but took even longer to find her footing. She answered in a very generic fashion, saying via her translator that Colombia was “an example to be followed by the rest of the countries.” She also cited Colombia’s perseverance—a quality that could have applied to any number of countries. It certainly would have worked for Jamaica, a country with a gross domestic product per capita over $2,000 less than that of Colombia.

Statistics and pageant performance aside, Fennell is a class act. As soon as she got through Jamaican customs at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, she was swarmed by the press, yet was still able to maintain excellent composure.

In an interview with the local Jamaican paper Jamaica Gleaner, she said, “Young ladies out there, don’t look at anybody else. You do you.”

Fennell––who personally defies the beauty pageant standard of long flowing locks with her own short hairstyle––also added, “If you want short hair, you do the short hair. If you want long hair, you do the long hair. Be confident in your own skin. There’s nothing wrong with you. Just love yourself and move forward from there.”

It’s certainly unfortunate that Fennell didn’t take home the title. Hopefully, she can continue to be a strong role model for young girls in Jamaica and around the globe without it.