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Miss USA Elle Smith said it felt powerful to win with her natural hair – INSIDER

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When Elle Smith decided to compete in her first pageant just six months ago, she knew she was going to wear her natural hair. 
And Smith, who represented Kentucky as she took the Miss USA crown on Monday night, told Insider that she’s “so happy to be representative to that community.” 
“Girl, I did it!” Smith, 23, said with a laugh after she was asked how it felt to win the pageant with her natural hair. “It’s bold, it’s powerful, it says that I’m here. Representation is so incredibly important.” 
Smith credits Cheslie Kryst, who won Miss USA in 2019, with giving her the confidence to compete with her natural hair. 
“When I saw Cheslie win with her natural hair, I’m thinking, ‘OK, I can do it as well,'” she added. “I wanted to do it immediately.” 
Kryst — who took her title the same year Kaliegh Harris won Miss Teen USA with her natural curls — previously told Refinery29 that she was “a little bit worried and anxious” about wearing her natural hair on the pageant stage. 
“Although more women are competing with natural hair nowadays, there still aren’t many,” she told the site in May 2019. “But I thought, ‘I want to do it as the most real and authentic me,’ and that’s really what my hair represents.” 
Just months after Kryst won the Miss USA crown, Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi became the first woman with natural afro-textured hair to win Miss Universe. 
Tunzi told Insider at the time that many people tried to persuade her to compete in the pageant with a wig instead. 
“I was like, ‘No, you know what, I’m going to do it the way I am, because I’ve been with my natural hair for the past three years,”‘ Tunzi said. “I don’t see why I should change it just because I’m stepping into another platform.”
“I’m saying beauty does not look one certain way,” she added. “I’m telling women, you can be beautiful too if you want to. You can stand up and say, ‘I’m beautiful the way that I am, with the shape that I am, with the skin color that I have, with the freckles that I have.'”
Smith has also spoken out about inclusivity in the pageant world, telling Insider on Monday what she believes needs to change. 
“At Miss USA, we have been so inclusive to different ethnicities and different races,” she said. “But more or less, we all look very similar. And I think, if we want to be representative of women as a whole, then we’ve got to be more inclusive to all body types. And that transcends across the Miss USA pageant into other pageant systems as well.”

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