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Beauty and the brains

21-year-old pageant winner and Western Sydney University student, Catherine Madziva, utilises her pageant success to promote diversity....
21-year-old pageant winner and Western Sydney University student, Catherine Madziva, utilises her pageant success to promote diversity.
“In pageants, there’s this assumption that everyone’s going to be very bitchy and catty. That was not my experience at all, everyone was so lovely and supportive. It was like a sisterhood.”
Photo by: Aleksandar Zirkovic.

As a first-time pageant contestant, Catherine Madziva, originally from Zimbabwe, was initially hesitant to explore uncharted waters. It wasn’t until the founder of Miss Sahara, Anyier Yuol, approached her randomly and asked her to compete.

Catherine was willing to accept the challenge after Anyier shared her own experiences while competing in pageants on an international level.

“In one particular pageant, she was in the top two, and one of the judges said something along the lines of ‘You were meant to be crowned for this, but Australia isn’t ready to have a black queen yet’,” says Catherine.

Catherine couldn’t turn down the opportunity when she realised that Miss Sahara was not just about winning a crown and a sash, but rather, the South-Sudanese founder aims to change the game in the mainstream beauty industry by promoting diversity and representation for all groups, particularly African women.

“What makes Miss Sahara different is the fact that you have to be of African descent to participate,” Catherine says. “The [expectation] of the night was that you have your traditional outfit. This is an entertainment element to showcase the diversity of Africa.”

Photo by: Aleksandar Zivkovic.

With her reign in the pageant, her main goal was to promote diversity as the standard within the beauty community and industry – and not to be seen as the token girl.

When conversing with the other pageant contestants about their experiences in Australia’s beauty climate today, she found that the industry lacks genuine diversity and representation despite recent “progress”.

“They’ll go to modelling agencies and be like ‘We already have a black girl’ … Okay? Well then have another one,” she says.

When envisioning what representation should be like in terms of media, government, beauty, and film and television, Catherine refers to the types of people you see on a train.

“On a train, you will see young and old, you will see black, white, yellow … You will see people with disabilities and all walks of life. That’s what we should be seeing,” she says.

Catherine’s desire to help and inspire others worked concurrently with her degree and occupation in social work. She enjoys the “indirect” side of social work, involving policies and procedures around people’s wellbeing.

Rather than actively working with people, such as working for Family and Community Services or a youth shelter, she says she enjoys, “looking at the bigger picture” and ensuring “the infrastructures that people live in are equitable.”

“The thing that I hope to achieve with Miss Sahara, and the work that I’m doing is creating a sisterhood and a safe space for women”
Photo by: Aleksandar Zivkovic.

Since her reign in the pageant, the main thing that she hopes to achieve is creating a sister-hood and a safe space for women.

To promote this, she created a “girls chat” at her house every two months, where women of different expertise, generations and occupations impart their knowledge. “The idea came about when I was asking my mum questions about my life, whether it was to do with boys, money, finance, travelling, studies – anything,” she says.

Previously, speakers and guests have included female experts in finance and relationships educating and providing advice, hairstylists facilitating workshops, and filmmakers talking about why it is important to have conversations about racism and discrimination in Australia.

“The saying is when you educate a man, you educate a man. But when you educate a woman, you’re educating a village,” Catherine says.

Catherine shares that Miss Sahara gave her the platform to network with certain people.
With the positive changes and opportunities that the pageant has provided for Catherine, she hopes to use her platform and resources to facilitate a greater purpose.

“Because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for. I think we need to use the talents and resources we have, and those around us to benefit the lives of other people.”

For more information on Miss Sahara Beauty Pageant, click here.