Miss Teen USA on being biracial

"I'm black and I'm also white. And I'm happy being both." Miss Teen USA explains her journey to embracing her racial identity.

Miss Teen USA 2019 makes history

Kaliegh Garris, who is Miss Teen USA 2019, made history as 1 of 5 women of color holding crowns in the major beauty pageants. While many media headlines announced it was "5 black women" who'd been crowned, Garris says navigating her own racial identity was more complex. Garris explains, “Because growing up, I obviously can't pass as a white woman. But I obviously don't know if I could fully pass as a black woman.” Throughout her childhood, she never really knew where she fit in.

Embracing racial identity

Garris learned how to embrace her natural hair years prior to competing in Miss Teen USA. In the past, she wanted nothing more than to fit in. Garris elaborates, “I started getting keratin treatments in my hair because my mom had long blond straight hair and I wanted to be exactly like her.” Eventually, it was her friends who gave her the push she needed to cut her hair and truly start being herself. Now, Garris doesn’t hesitate to boast about her natural hair. “Personally, I love my curly hair. It makes me feel just completely myself and it's very me. I love being big. So it's just something that I've really grown into myself,” she tells Brut.

Inspiring future generations

Now she wants to empower young people to find their own identity. She encourages others explaining, “It's going to take time, but you will find your place, because I know growing up, I was always unsure of where I belonged, what table to sit at, who my friends were. And now I know I can be friends with whoever I want. And it doesn't matter what they identify as, what I identify as.” By sharing her story with her new title and influence, she has the opportunity to inspire thousands of young girls to step out of their comfort zone. “Because at the end of the day, we're people and we can be friends. And so it's going to take time to fully come into yourself. But that's OK. And you'll find it,” she concludes.