When Deshauna Barber was crowned Miss USA in 2016, she made history as the first active member in the military to be crowned. But it wasn’t until her final walk as she went to crown the new titleholder that she really sparked excitement.
The Georgia-native left the audience shocked as she walked proudly onstage with her natural hair to crown her successor, Kara McCullough. Barber looked out into the audience with a new sense of pride as a Black woman embracing her new style.
Recently, Barber sat down with Refinery29 to discuss what prompted her to go natural for the crowning and reflected on the racism she endured while on the Miss USA tour.
“My mom always pushed me to wear my natural hair, and I would always say no,” Barber told Refinery. “She’d still push me because she thought they’d love it. And she was right.”
Because the pageant was on Mother’s Day, Barber decided to pay tribute to her mother, who passed away two months after her own win, she said.
“When you’re crowned with a look, then that’s the look you’re expected to maintain,” Barber said. “A lot of people in the pageant world are still very old school. They believe in a traditional look, a traditional Miss USA.
[The organization] is trying to, in my opinion, open up that world.”
When Barber brought up that she wanted to wear her natural hair, she said, the organization was very excited and supportive. She even got Kara to agree to wear her curls onstage and, although she was hesitant at first, she agreed.
“People could relate to her being comfortable with her natural hair. I think there’s something beautiful about that,” Barber said. “For me to walk out in my natural hair and to crown someone with natural hair broke down walls.”
Barber also spoke briefly about the discrimination she faced while competing for Miss Universe, where she had to deal with colorism on an international level, stating that people from different countries saw her as ugly because of the darkness of her skin.
During the competition, Barber would receive messages with monkey emojis, compare her skin to the poop emoji and tag her in photos of apes. She stayed quiet on the issue as to not deter others from competing.
These incidents are why Barber thinks it’s important to have confidence in herself and keep moving. Barber hopes that the next girls to compete will follow her lead and wear their natural hair as well to help ease natural hairstyles into the pageant community, she said.
For now, Barber is continuing her motivational speaking engagements to raise awareness for everything from race relations and gender equality to mental illness in the military.
“Now that my tenure is up, it’s all to the wall now,” she said. “I don’t have to restrain myself. Now is the time to break down barriers.”