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Pageant producer Young strips shallow view to find depth in beauty
Miss City of Port-of-Spain, 18-year-old Zarna Hart, sits quietly next to her primary mentor and this year’s Miss City of Port-of-Spain beauty pageant producer, Richard Young. Her crown, perfectly placed on her smooth ponytailed hairstyle and her fit-for-a-beauty-queen Dexter Jennings dress ensure that she is noticed, but Young is a tour de force, who after 25 years at the helm of his own event management/production design company, has a lot to share and a clear vision of where the beauty industry can go in T&T and across the Caribbean.
“I wanted the pageant process to empower young women,” says Young. “It’s not just about teaching people how to walk. It’s about merchandising beauty, celebrating beauty. Beauty is very deep for me—it’s an understanding of who you are, your biography, your history, inner discipline as well as pampering the hair, skin, exercise and diet…”
Young explains that as the creative director and producer of the pageant held on June 1, he worked with fashion designer Dominic La Roche to transform the hopeful contenders into well-rounded individuals capable of telling their own story as well as showcasing the clothing that reflects local contemporary fashion excellence.
As winner of the pageant Hart could be considered the most eloquent representation of Young and La Roche’s mentorship. Crowned in the year of Port-of-Spain’s 100th anniversary of becoming a city, her reign is also symbolic of the changing face of the cityscape—she will be required to show this face at a range of centenary events—and she admits later, she is well aware too of her role as a voice of the capital’s youth. Hart, however, had already fashioned her own goals going into competition and is poised comfortably at the place where they and all other expectations intersect.
Hart’s story begins with being born to parents she said were very young when she was conceived. Having to make something of their lives despite what might have been a premature decision, said Hart, taught her the value of hard work and needing to do something for oneself.
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“My parents worked hard to reach where they are now,” she said, “there was a point where my father worked two jobs.”
She said that when she graduated from Holy Name Convent last year she realised that the shy persona she had assumed throughout her school life would no longer serve her in good stead in the adult world. She did have a sense of her vocation—she enjoyed sculpture, painting, drawing, even designing clothes—but never saw herself as a “resource for superficial beauty.”
Explaining that she was teased, especially in primary school, for being shy and for the huge glasses that framed her face, Hart said, “I never wanted to stand up for myself, I was constantly doubting myself.”
She says her desire to try something new and fresh that would take her beyond the restraint she felt as teenager was what drew her to the advertisement. Young interjects that the casting advertisement for the pageant never mentioned that it was a beauty competition, explaining that the promise of empowerment and life-affirming transformation had been enough to attract a deluge of applicants, including Hart, in need of something, especially encouragement.
“It was a revelation of self,” said Hart, “I entered the competition thinking I was the weakest link, I was intimidated and scared…I had a fear of revealing my voice, of being successful, of really doing something for myself …”
But by the end of Young and La Roche’s “experiential process of social graces, protocol, etiquette, and providing a space for young women to interact around similar interests,” Harts said, “it has increased my confidence, I am comfortable with who I am. It was not about being a famous person. It was a growth experience during which I made friends and mentors.”
Despite the triumph of moving through a process, which saw a shortlisted group of 50 young women, described by Hart as markedly more experienced than she was, dwindle to just 12, and emerging as the overall winner of the pageant, Hart confessed, “the fact is that I am not a beauty queen, just a genuine person who wants something for myself and others. I always wanted to give back to my nation.”
Hart explained that as part of her license to represent young people in T&T, she will mount forums where young people’s voices can be heard and taken seriously.
Apart from “a higher head, greater knowledge and confidence,” Hart said though, “I am still who I am everyday.”
This point is driven home when she explains that as the eldest of her six siblings, none of her big sister responsibilities have changed and that after the interview, she will need to change quickly to pick up her youngest brother from school.
Entering the Miss T&T pageant will not be a natural progression for her, and while she says she will consider it, she said her first priority is her education. She will use her pageant cash prize of $10,000 to help with tuition costs at Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales, where she will pursue a degree in Graphic Communication in September.
Hart admits, however, that it seems almost selfish to keep all the money to herself and is still deciding whether she wants to make a donation to a children’s home or a charity.
Young seems proud of his mentee.
She has done a good job of expressing what she wanted, has achieved and will pursue. “I have done many pageants,” said Young, “and not all of them do the empowering thing … young women were sold the wrong perception, the process didn’t access their souls.”
Explaining that many of the young people he has worked with share stories of “abuse, abandonment and separation,” Young says that their participation in something like a pageant is part of their act of soul searching.
This is just one of the reasons that he wants to “strip the view of beauty as a vacuous thing.”