The 72nd Miss Universe pageant is embracing diversity and representation. For the first time, the global competition has two transgender women, two mothers and a plus-size model aiming for the crown.
The Miss Universe 2023 pageant debuted its preliminary phase in El Salvador on Wednesday with the evening gown and swimsuit rounds. Miss Portugal Marina Machete and Miss Netherlands Rikkie Kollé made history as the first trans women representing their countries in the competition.
Kollé, a 22-year-old model and LGBTQIA+ rights activist, has denounced the hate she received after being crowned Miss Netherlands in July. She now uses her platform to share messages of encouragement to trans people around the world. “I see you all, I love you all. And I hope we can stay strong together,” Kollé wrote on Instagram after debuting at the Miss Universe competition.
Machete, a 23-year-old flight attendant, was crowned in October. In a video shared on her Instagram account, she referred to her victory as a dream come true and said she hopes to help people change their minds about transgender women. “As a trans woman, I’ve been through many obstacles along the way. But fortunately, and especially with my family, love proved to be stronger than ignorance,” she said.
The Miss Universe Organization changed its rules to allow transgender contestants in 2012. In 2018, Miss Spain Ángela Ponce became the first trans contestant in the competition.
In October 2022, Thai transgender entrepreneur Anne Jakrajutatip purchased the Miss Universe Organization from IMG. Under Jakrajutatip’s ownership, the Miss Universe contest revised its rules, allowing mothers, married people and divorcees to compete.
Miss Guatemala Michelle Cohn and Miss Camila Avella became the first married women and mothers to enter the competition.
Miss Nepal Jane Dipika Garrett became the first plus-size model to become a delegate. The 22-year-old advocates for body positivity, mental health and hormonal issues.
Miss Pakistan Erica Robin is also making history. Robin is the first delegate from her country to join the Miss Universe competition.
“When I learned that Miss Universe has finally opened up for Pakistani women, I know I have to try and give it my best — because one day — I believe I can also inspire millions of women to push for their dreams and never be afraid and someday they can also say ‘if not now, when!’” Robin shared on Instagram.
It’s been a year of firsts for the Miss Universe Organization. On Wednesday, it revealed its first collaborative merchandise line, which features swimsuits that were also seen onstage during the 72nd Miss Universe competition. Produced under the name Miss Universe by Rubin Singer, the swimwear offering will be available on Wednesday for preorder on missuniverse.com.
On Thursday, the 86 contestants of the Miss Universe stepped onstage again for the national costume show. The final part of the pageant will be held in San Salvador on Saturday, when current Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel will crown her successor. Gabriel wears the Force for Good crown, created by the Lebanese jewelry company Mouawad. The piece is encrusted with diamonds and sapphires with 993 stones.
Former Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo and TV personality Jeannie Mai will host the competition with Maria Menounos, marking the first time the pageant has had an exclusively all-female hosting team. The 72nd Miss Universe will be streamed at 8 p.m. ET in English on The Roku Channel and in Spanish by Telemundo.