By Patrick Green
On the evening of November 26, 2017, ninety-two of the universe’s most beautiful women gathered in Las Vegas in a contest to see who would wear the crown. After the swimsuit and interview rounds, it came down to the top three; Miss South Africa, Miss Columbia, and Miss Jamaica, Davina Bennett. When Steve Harvey, the master of ceremonies, took the envelope from the Ernst and Young accounting firm representative, you could hear a pin drop in Jamaica, in between the pounding heartbeats of the nearly 6 million Jamaicans worldwide.
Jamaica has been here before. Yendi Phillips was first runner-up in 2010, and Kaci Fennell was a showstopper in 2015. She placed fifth. It is somewhat unbelievable that a country with four Miss World titles has never won a Miss Universe crown. Other Jamaican beauties to have reached the top ten include Christine Straw (2004), Nicole Haughton (1999), Sandra Foster (1989), and Kimberly Mais (1991).
Steve Harvey opened the envelope and began his announcement. The camera cut to the three beautiful ladies on stage. Davina, dressed in a beautiful buttercup yellow dress, showed confidence with a full head of afro. Her left hand was on her hips, and the other rested calmly at her side. The intro music started. Davina flashed a beautiful Jamaican smile, and the voices saying “Miss Jamaica” echoed through the mics from the audience. When Harvey announced “Jamaica” as the second runner-up, the crowd went wild with disappointment, including quite a few boos.
Davina’s afro legacy started
That was the end of the Miss Universe story for Jamaica in 2017, but the journey of its queen was just about to start. Davina wrote on her Instagram page shortly after: “I did not win, but I got what I was seeking. I won the hearts of many, I got to highlight Deaf awareness, I stand as the first afro queen to have made it thus far, I represented my little island, and I received all the love one could possibly wish for…. THANK YOU!!! I came, I conquered, and if you know me, then you know that’s just another story and you will be seeing a lot more from me.”
In its 65-year history up to 2017, no woman dared to wear afro at the Miss Universe beauty contest. But Jamaica gave the world another first, and this “rebel” 5’ 10.5” beauty from Clarendon was on a path to changing the world.
“I wanted to break the standards. I wanted to be the domino. I wanted to have an effect. I thought it was the right thing to do,” she told CNW at a recent event in Miramar, Florida.
The road to being a standout wasn’t easy for the then 21-year-old. “I got a lot of backlash for it. To this day, they call me the dark horse because no one counted me to be a part of the top five simply because of my hair. So I just wanted to prove that I can be myself and do this well. And prove to my country, little girls, and even men worldwide that you can show up in a beauty contest, be yourself, embrace who you are, and do well. And so, I just showed up. I was confident, and I was recognized.”
Davina said she didn’t go natural specifically for the competition. “I was natural before. And I didn’t think there was a need to change who I was to conform to the beauty standards. I have never been one to conform. I have always been a rebel, and I didn’t want to follow the rules.”
What Shonda Rhimes said about Davina
Davina Bennett created a comment storm on social media with her bold, world-changing Miss Universe appearance. Superstar producer Shonda Rhimes said, “I am clearly going to need some Miss Jamaica dolls for my daughters. So they can play with a doll that shows them they are fully EVERYTHING the universe ever needed.” Soon images of Davina dolls in afro started springing up on the internet.
Another person wrote, “Jamaican Woman’s stock went up last night. Thank you @Davina_Bennett_ for being unapologetically beautiful, black, elegant, AND Jamaican. Thank you for reminding us Jamaicans far and wide of our own God-given beauty and poise. We are so much prouder today.”
Allure Magazine wrote that: “Seeing natural hair recognized on an international stage is more than just a step in the right direction — it’s a win for women of color who unfortunately still do not see themselves represented nearly enough in mainstream media and in Western-based beauty pageants.”
Davina hated her hair
Since childhood, changing the world of beauty and especially how women with natural hair see themselves, have been on Davina’s mind, at least subconsciously. The hatred she had for her hair may have planted that seed. “When I was growing up, I didn’t see girls in the magazine with my afro, so I didn’t like my hair.”
She has noticed the shift since her moment of fame in 2017, and she loves it. “I have seen a shift in the beauty competitions around the world. Just two years after, a Miss Universe with natural hair was crowned. Miss USA also had natural hair. People now understand that this can also be the norm. I feel like we are in a time now where acceptance is a big thing, and the world is shifting for the better,” she said.
The power of her impact on young girls
Davina understands the power of her action five years ago in Las Vegas and its impact on young girls. During her travels around the world, she continually preaches that as people, “we are all uniquely different and beautiful.” She emphasized that “We don’t need to add or take away” to be beautiful.
“We are who we are, and we should embrace who we are. Sometimes it is easier said than done, but I believe the world is shifting. I feel like diversity is being embraced in competition and the fashion industry. Afros of many different textures are being embraced, ethnicities are being embraced, and this is all good.”
She admitted, though, that the biggest hurdle for the changes to take a solid hold is representation. “I feel like if you just find a representation, then it becomes easier to embrace who you are. Now that we are having more to see, then I am positive more young girls will be more accepting of their natural beauty.”
Being an ambassador for Jamaica, Davina travels a lot, giving motivational speeches and talking to people from different cultures about hers. “You’re either talking about your journey or just encouraging people to keep going. And for me, because I was the first black woman to make it into the top 3 with my natural afro hair, that was something that I still stand for today, promoting, preaching, and encouraging girls just to be themselves and be who they are and love their natural hair and selves.”
One thing Davina Bennett would change about Jamaica
She also talks a lot about Jamaica, its incredible and unique culture, way of life, food, music, and strength of the people. But there is one thing she would like to change about her beautiful island. “I love my island; let’s put that out there. I support it. I am an ambassador for my country. But if I could change one thing, I think it would definitely be to lower the crime rate. That is something that has a little damper on the island, its people, and its spirits. Just reducing the crime rate would allow more people to just come together as one,” she said.
What she is up to now and life after Miss Universe
So what is the Jamaican beauty queen up to these days? Professionally, Davina is a full-time model and continues to do her endorsements deals. Last year she teamed up with Colombian Reggaeton singer Maluma and was the leading lady in the video for the EP 7 Days in Jamaica. She travels quite a lot and gives plenty of interviews. Of course, she is an ambassador for Jamaica and is fully engaged with the Davina Bennett Foundation for the Deaf. In between all that work she also tries to “mix in a little fun and entertainment.”
Regarding life after Miss Universe, she told CNW that she loves it. “I am loving life after because life during was very stressful. Beauty pageants are no easy task, so I am definitely enjoying the afterlife. Really just basking in my career path. This has been a dream of mine for many years, so I am happy to be doing it full-time. I have been blessed and highly favored.”
She is also happy with the rewards she now enjoys. “With beauty pageants, you have to really do well; you have to make an impact to get something from it. And if you are not crowned, you have to find a way to monetize your best assets. I have done that from the end of the competition to the present day, and I have to say I am doing quite well for myself.”
Bet you didn’t know this about Davina?
Looking at Davina, you would think that she feeds on low-calorie diets and lives in the gym to satisfy her professional needs as a model. Don’t be fooled by the slender physique! This girl is a foodie and a big one too. The good news is that she is not ashamed of her appetite for food. “I may be skinny, but I probably eat more than you,” she told me. When food was mentioned, her smile widened as if her taste buds were set on fire with excitement. So, what is her favorite? “Oh God, I am a big foodie. I don’t know how I would narrow it down. I am a lover of seafood. I love my steam fish, Jamaican style, of course. I would do anything right now for some jerk pork and jerk chicken from Jamaica,” she exclaimed with a pleasant grin.
Davina’s favorite places to travel
Davina has traveled extensively, especially for her line of work, and she loves the adventure. Her favorite places are “definitely Greece and Switzerland.” Greece because of its culture and traditions, while the luxury of Switzerland brings her joy. “With Greece, even though the world is changing, they still remain the same. And that is something I admire. I love walking around as a black woman in Switzerland and everybody looking at me like I am out of place. They are like, “What is she doing here.” And I am just strutting with confidence because I belong here,” she said with a broad, confident smile.
What most people don’t know about Davina
Being in the public’s eye and with her incredible following on social media, you’d think there is not much to discover about Davina. But there is! One thing that she believes most people don’t know about her is that she is funny. “I find that my friends and close friends find me to be funny. I don’t know why. That is something that I don’t portray a lot in public spaces, but I believe that if my friends were all gathered, they would say that I am naturally funny. Not because I have jokes lined up or anything,” she pointed out.
Today Davina calls Fort Lauderdale, South Florida, her home. She is enjoying the life of her dream job and all the benefits it offers. If she does nothing with her influence for the rest of her life, her legacy will still be monumental. She will forever be remembered as the first beauty queen with an afro to place third in the Miss Universe pageant. She will forever be the queen that changed the pageant business and the one who greeted the world on the stage in Las Vegas with “Wah Gwaan, Las Vegas!