Imagining Caribbean womanhood

Race, nation and beauty contests, 1929–70

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.

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