Is this the first black Miss England? (And do we call that progress anyway?)

But it is not just her appetite for fatty foods that will make Ms Christie
stand out from her peers when she takes her place alongside the other 49
Miss England finalists in London today. She is one of only a handful of
black finalists in the contest and ? if the bookies’ predictions come true ?
she is set to become the first black woman to win the pageant.

The other reason the 20-year-old will stand out from her baton-twirling
competitors is that she has a genuine talent. The niece of former Olympic
sprint champion Linford Christie, she is an accomplished track athlete,
currently in training for 2012 qualifiers.

“Can’t I send you a photo? I don’t really look like a beauty queen today,”
she says when the photographer arrives. But she does. At 5ft 10in, with long
hair, long legs and apparently even longer eyelashes, it is easy to see why
she is leading the field with odds at 8-1 to take this year’s crown.

Last year she was given the honorary title of Miss Fitness in the Miss London
contest, but being runner up this year is not an option. After taking the
Miss London crown, where “almost all the girls were white”, she is
ready to win. “I’m used to competition, because if you fall down you
just pick yourself up again.”

She thinks it’s time that beauty competitions changed away from the Barbie
looks they have become known for. “I don’t know why so few black girls
enter. I think they think they won’t win because beauty queens always have
blond hair and blue eyes. I think they need to advertise more to change
that. I’d be so proud if I were the first black Miss England.”

Christie lives in west London with her mother, brother and sister. Her father,
Linford’s brother Russell, was stabbed to death when she was only eight,
after becoming involved in a drugs war.

“When I was young I was deprived of a lot of things because everything
was unstable,” she explains. She entered the contest in the hope of
launching a modelling career that might fund her athletics training. “I’m
just an athlete at the minute, which means I’m unemployed and I’m broke.
Modelling could fit round training in a way that a lot of other jobs
couldn’t.”

She sees her uncle Linford at the running track named after him in
Hammersmith, west London, where he coaches her in sprinting alongside other
athletes. “He’s very busy,” she says. “I haven’t spoken to
him about entering. When I see him it’s just about sport; it’s just the
track. But him making it made me think I could do it too.”

Rachael Williams, who was the first Miss Black Britain in 2006, and a finalist
at that year’s Miss England competition, said that if Ms Christie won it
would be a breakthrough for equality in the modelling world. “It would
mean a lot if she won. It would show how far we’ve come.”

Maya Schultz, managing director of Acclaim, an agency which specialises in
ethnic minority models, said: “If she becomes Miss England that would
be a really big deal. England is such a cosmopolitan country and yet we’ve
never had a black Miss England. It would definitely shake things up.”

Not everyone sees a black beauty queen as progress. Sandrine Leveque, of the
feminist campaign group Object, said: “We believe racism should be
challenged in all its forms, but the same should apply to sexism. We
strongly believe that beauty contests like Miss England are clearly sexist
and send out the message that it is acceptable to treat women as sex
objects. This is not progress. Fundamentally beauty contests have no place
in 2009.”

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