My family and I were watching the crowning of Miss South Africa 2017 a few Sundays ago and I just want to extend my congratulations to Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters for taking the crown.

When we were watching the show, I nudged my sister just a little bit and said to her ‘remember my silly attempt at entering Miss South Africa?’ she was like ‘yup’ and we both just laughed. Looking at those girls on Sunday I was like ‘what the heck was I thinking!?’ Yes folks, in 2014 I sent my application for the Miss South Africa 2015 pageant and even went for a proper photo shoot. And guess what! I was called in for the casting, but I got cold feet so I didn’t go. In my mediocre analysis, I think more than anything the selection committee must have been impressed with my motivation letter. It was very powerful even if I say so myself.

After our laughs, my sister soon shed light and said ‘but you know what Bongs, you were not being silly, remember the passion, and your reasoning, think of that and I actually think you would have won if you had gone to the casting.’ I don’t know whether she was saying this because she is my sister and her confidence in me could be bias but a part of me felt that perhaps she was on to something.

My desire in entering the pageant was completely revolutionary. I remember when I shared  with my very supportive friends and my now ex-colleagues and close friends about my reasoning behind entering the pageant.

I must say, based on what I observed they were very supportive but we may never know if they laughed behind closed doors. Quite frankly, if they did laugh I wouldn’t have held it against them because reality is; girls like me don’t enter pageants of that magnitude and be considered.

So why did I send my application? Well, trust me when I say my desire was not to parade on stage as a beauty queen and be crowned the most beautiful woman in the country, but I felt that somebody needed to challenge this notion of what a “Miss South Africa” should look like. Pardon me for saying this, but for far too long we have been made to believe a perception of beauty that is one dimensional. Over the years, I have witnessed many beautiful & graceful women of South Africa, who have paraded the stages of Miss SA pageants and marvelled at their physical beauty as something out of reach for me as an ordinary average woman. Becoming Miss SA 2015 would have given me a platform to echo two key messages to people.

Firstly, If I won, it would be a message of the least likely candidate (typical girl next door) taking the throne. It would echo a message to motivate young people to believe that all things are possible and that we should never give up on our dreams despite the unfavourable circumstances. Secondly, I wanted to be a gift to my country. I believe that when we all discover our true purpose there should be no room for competition, but we will complement each other. I wanted to you use the Miss SA platform to emancipate people’s thinking and to serve as an activist for the further entrenching of Human Rights. I ponder about this and think these are the kind of things Madiba and his counter parts fought for. They wanted to see a generation of young people who will be bold to challenge the status quo and redefine perceptions around anything. In this case, I wanted to redefine beauty and what it truly means to be a South African and reawaken the “Ubuntu” and servitude spirit in all of us.

I know this is one of those topics where there will always be constant ongoing dialogue and debate, and there are many interesting sides to this debate. I’ve heard a lot of people echo that our African pageants should feature women who are curvy or fuller because that’s what an African woman looks like.

However, we must be careful how we use words in this context, as my sister always points out, ‘does it mean because I am very thin that I am not an African woman?’ I think perhaps the appropriate way to say this is that our African Pageants should be more inclusive of women who come in different shapes and sizes. When I read most of the requirements of what a Miss South Africa should be (i.e. passionate about social injustices; educated and pursing a vibrant career; great role model; great interpersonal skills; etc). I know a lot of ordinary women who fit that description, but will not qualify because of one thing, their body. I guess this is the point where the modelling industry draws the line.

Like any job, you need to have particular qualifications to occupy that position. To be a doctor you need to go to Medical school and do the necessary community service. To be a charted accountant you need your degree and to complete certain board exams and this applies to all our different industries.

What do you think? Should there be a pageant that will be inclusive of women in all sizes and shapes? Can such a pageant exist successfully? Should we be encouraging young women to be healthier or perhaps we should just leave things the way they are?