SA's Miss Universe hopeful Natasha Joubert is no fake 'powder puff poppie'
Margaret Gardiner, the first South African to win the Miss Universe title, chats to the beauty queen who could bring home the crown next
"I looked at my Miss South Africa title as a series of small wins: I grew emotionally, psychologically and had the opportunity to mourn my father, so there was no losing," says 23-year-old Natasha Joubert of her title as second runner-up to Shudufhadzo Musida in the Miss SA pageant last year.
The youngest of three children is an "old-fashioned" beauty who'll be representing Mzansi at the upcoming Miss Universe pageant. She's gorgeous, but if you think you're getting a powder puff poppie, think again.
For those who think pageants are exploitative and outdated, despite the recent slew of doctors who won titles, Joubert gives a peek behind the curtain at ambitious women with limited means taking advantage of an opportunity to attain their goals.
This is the girl who entered pageants at the age of 10 and by 13 was using her winnings to "help out" when her dad lost his job. The financial crisis resulting from her dad's death meant the Jouberts lost their family home, but her pageant winnings helped her pay for her studies. "I also won a scooter and drove it to university; I got to participate in a hockey tour with the cash prize."
So when people with the means to afford plenty of choices ask, "Haven't women moved beyond being objects of beauty?" she shrugs and asks, "How can I say I'm objectified when participating has empowered me?"
She counters the idea that beautiful women are less capable and lacking in intelligence because of pageant participation. "The pageant has progressed. We now have the opportunity to voice things that are important to us - and people listen."
She adds: "I had to grow up fast. Eight years ago I experienced what many people are going through today: losing a job, dealing with death, losing a business. I pushed through it and rose above it."
WATCH | Miss Universe 1978 Margaret Gardiner talks to the next South African who could take the crown, Natasha Joubert
WATCH | PART 2: Miss Universe 1978 Margaret Gardiner talks to the next South African who could take the crown, Natasha Joubert
The founder of a fashion design company, she recalls the time when money was so tight she couldn't afford a pageant dress. Her mum innovated. "She said, 'It can't be that hard'." They deconstructed one of her gowns and replicated it. "Looking back," she laughs, "it wasn't the best dress, but she made it with love."
Joubert has the perfect beauty queen smile. "Modelling and love of fashion comes from my grandmother. She was such an inspiration."
Her mother too. "I remember late nights with my mom in our garage, in the winter with the heater on, not sleeping. I embellished the dress. My mom sewed and fitted it on me. The designing became a company, Natalia Jefferys. People started asking for our dresses. My mom is making me some of the outfits for Miss Universe. What better companion to have than your mother?"
Joubert is using her platform to draw attention to SA's fashion industry, helping designers affected by the Covid pandemic though her #DestinyDesigned initiative.
"We opened a vetting process to SA designers. Twelve were chosen to show their work at a virtual fashion show, participate in workshops and receive cash investments into their businesses. I see it as supporting fellow entrepreneurs."
The girl creeps out from behind the crown when she talks of being an Afrikaans meisie, proud of her heritage. She chooses to speak English because, "I want to be able to communicate with anyone in the world. But, ag, ja, you can't ignore the fact that Afrikaans people love rugby, biltong, braaivleis - it's special."
I ask about a post of her crying on social media.
"I posted that picture because it isn't all sunshine and roses as people expect. Social media can be deceiving. People only post the best part of their lives. Having a breakdown, being overwhelmed - these things may have felt like a weakness in the moment, but I've turned it into power. Miss Universe needs to showcase inclusivity, relatability and that you represent your people in every way, including emotionally.
"I try to live my life realistically on a daily basis. I show people how I look without makeup, what I stand for, what I want to voice. I show people who I am."
It's rare for a country to win back-to-back, but it would be wonderful if the reigning Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi crowns Joubert bringing the title home for the second time in a row.
• After being postponed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 Miss Universe pageant will take place at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, on May 16 (2am to 5am on May 17, SA time). It'll be broadcast on 1 Magic (DStv channel 103).