The Caribbean Post's treatment of West Indian femininity reflected the growing significance of the beauty contest in the British Caribbean. Phyllis Woolford, 'Miss British Caribbean' of 1948 was pictured on the cover of the Post, epitomising modern Caribbean womanhood. This book examines the links between beauty and politics in the Anglophone Caribbean, providing a cultural history of Caribbean beauty competitions. It discusses the earliest Caribbean beauty competition, 'Miss Jamaica', launched in 1929 on the cusp of Jamaican cultural blossoming, and explores the emerging radical feminist voices amidst the cultural revolution. The 'Miss Trinidad' beauty competition, started in 1946, doubled as the search for an annual 'Carnival Queen', and represented the power of the moneyed white elite against an emergent black political force. The image that emerges of Barbados's 'Carnival Queen' contest is of a decidedly bourgeois contest, in which the 'creme de la creme' of Marcus Jordan's account were the most esteemed 'young ladies' of middle-class society. It examines the institutionalisation of the 'Ten Types' model and provides examples of copycat competitions elsewhere in the Caribbean. The 'Ten Types - Miss Ebony' contest was championed as a lesson in Jamaican racial democracy for other, less advanced, West Indian audiences. The book highlights the radical vantage point of exiled Trinidadian-born communist-feminist Claudia Jones who launched a Caribbean beauty competition in London. The burgeoning black beauty culture of London was imagined, through the West Indian Gazette as a pragmatic means of acquiring the respectable appearance that was 'race-pride' work.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book provides a cultural history of Caribbean beauty competitions in the Anglophone Caribbean and in London. It examines the significance of the performances on the beauty contest stage. The book reveals that the work of the beauty competition was to help to bring subjectivity, the body and citizen into being, as these countries emerged from colonialism. It explores the serviceability of the concept of hybridity within the different nationalist projects of the mid-twentieth century in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados. It considers the 'Miss Jamaica' contest as a vehicle for elitist white-creole nationalism in resistance to the unfolding drama of labour rebellion and cultural awakening of brown and black people.
The first 'Miss Jamaica' beauty competition took place in 1929, sponsored by the national newspaper the Daily Gleaner, and was closely aligned with planter-merchant interests. The 'Miss Jamaica' beauty contest developed in the 1930s, a decade that witnessed a surge in anticolonial activity: popular uprisings, feminist development, the formation of political parties, and an artistic and literary cultural awakening. However, the 'Miss Jamaica' beauty competition did emerge in resistance to the cultural revolution. An analysis of Herbert G. de Lisser's dedicated construction of idealised white femininity and Marson's and her contemporary Amy Bailey's feminist-nationalist critique of Jamaican national identity was made. Through this analysis, this chapter establishes the context for the origins of a Caribbean beauty competition before the Second World War. Finally, it considers the new beauty competitions which emerged immediately after the war and only for a short time: 'Miss British Caribbean', and 'Miss Kingston'.
Race, culture and power in the Trinidad ‘Carnival Queen’ beauty competition, 1946–59
The 'Miss Trinidad' beauty competition doubled as the search for an annual 'Carnival Queen'. This chapter begins by drawing together the threads of a diffuse discussion of Carnival-refinement, a process which began in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. It identifies Carnival-refinement as the cultural work of contending white and brown nationalisms. The chapter delves into the culturally embattled origins of 'Carnival Queen' and complicates the assumption of a polarised confrontation between black and white. It argues that the context of bitter rivalry over Carnival between whites and browns restrained the development of the model of hybrid Caribbean beauty that Aimee Webster's 'Miss British Caribbean' competition had decreed as the way forward. Canboulay Carnival was too much dominated, in the minds of the reforming bourgeois, by the vivacity of subaltern culture, its subversive humour, violence and frequent crossings of middle-class gender norms that marked respectability and modernity.
The 'Carnival Queen' beauty competition began in Barbados in 1958 and was modelled after its lucrative Trinidadian equivalent. This chapter brings into focus the performativity of the beauty contest and considers particularly how modern, cultured beauty was imagined and constructed by its central agents, organisers and contestants. It examines the role of the Jaycees, a youth movement favoured by socially aspirant men, in organising the contests; crucially the Jaycees paired business sponsors to beauty candidates. The chapter considers the experiences of candidates, tasked with delivering idealised femininity on the national stage. It also examines what happened when this process, of making displays of ideal femininity, was seen to lapse, as in the 1964 'Miss Ebony' competition. The 1964 'Miss Ebony' competition was denounced as a failure resulting in a booing fracas as the candidates were rejected by a racist audience.
Jamaican beauty competitions and the myth of racial democracy, 1955–64
This chapter explores the path of the 'Ten Types' multi-competition and its impacts, including the 'Miss Jamaica Nation' competition, a black-nationalist intervention to rival 'Miss Jamaica'. The 'Ten Types' competition replaced race with a gendered ideology of colour in which brownness symbolically desensitised racial confrontation and blackness was marginalised. The 'Ten Types' beauty contest symbolically called upon the history of (en)gendering race through the bodies of Caribbean women. Much like Brazil's official myth of racial democracy and the 'melting pot' rhetoric of the United States, 'Ten Types' would serve as a metaphor for Jamaica's successful assimilation of once disparate peoples in democratic harmony. The 'Ten Types' beauty contest provides the opportunity to examine the spectacle of the racialised feminine body in the construction of a multiracial modern Jamaican identity.
Claudia Jones, the West Indian Gazette and the ‘Carnival Queen’ beauty contest in London, 1959–64
This chapter considers the cultural work of the 'Carnival Queen' beauty contest, at first glance an unlikely project for a communist feminist, to affirm black femininity in Britain as a mark of cultural and racial resistance. It examines Claudia Jones's steerage of the West Indian Gazette, Britain's first commercial black newspaper, to deliver a pronounced celebration of black womanhood. Through the Gazette Jones supported, and was supported by, a burgeoning black beauty culture, which provided uneven opportunities to extend this well-intentioned work. In London, Jones used the Gazette, Carnival and 'Carnival Queen' to affirm a Diaspora Caribbean culture and identity. The beauty contest in the Caribbean has advanced cultural nationalism through the image of an idealised light-skinned 'brown' woman, as a means of challenging British cultural supremacy.
Beauty competitions in the Caribbean performed racialising and gendering work. They broadly reiterated the social lines between whiteness, brownness and blackness, yet this framework actually provided the opportunity to renegotiate such categories on the beauty stage, through the performance of modern, cultured, feminine beauty. Competitions began as a white space, but ultimately provided a register of exemplary brown femininity and helped to make brownness iconic of the region. In 1970 the second ever Caribbean woman to win the 'Miss World' competition, 22-year-old BWIA air stewardess, Grenadian Jennifer Hosten, was crowned. Hosten became hugely popular in the Caribbean. So significant was her win that there was even a skirmish between officials of Trinidad and Grenada over who could properly claim her win, because she had also spent long periods in Trinidad.