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Miss SA chief to build army of empowered women



The chief executive of Miss SA, Stephanie Weil, despises the “rehashed question” of whether beauty pageants hold relevance in today’s world.

“It’s the first question I get asked in every interview,” she said as if pre-empting the obvious.

Weil is the brains behind the SABC 3 reality television series, Crown Chasers, the first reality TV show in pageant history to showcase the real life and times of beauty contestants, offering a rare glimpse into their world.

“The show answers exactly why pageants are more relevant today than ever,” Weil told the SA Jewish Report.

“Beauty is being proud of who you are, it’s not about being this perfect Cindy Crawford anymore. The landscape has changed. To enter, you can be a mother, a wife. It’s inclusive and embracing. It’s about bigger women, women with cellulite and imperfections, and it’s ok. It’s about their story and what makes them tick,” said Weil, 33.

Having been at the helm of Miss SA for five years, Weil believes her role is among other things about making Miss SA more commercially viable than a one-night spectacle and extravaganza, and making the iconic brand more sustainable.

Last year, Crown Chasers gave a behind-the-scenes look at the build-up to the 2022 finale. This year, it was developed into a five-part reality series that grew in viewership each week as another contestant got kicked off at the end of each episode.

“I’m proud of what we achieved. We broke even for the pilot show, and there are talks of expanding it,” Weil said.

It’s been less than two weeks since Natasha Joubert was crowned the new Miss SA 2023 at the SunBet Arena at Time Square Casino in Pretoria, taking the reins from Ndavi Nokeri.

The 26-year-old BCom Marketing Management graduate, fashion designer, and owner of a fashion design company said she was humbled and grateful to win the title.

“Natasha is incredible. She’s like a prize after a long, hard year,” said Weil. “A lot goes into reshaping the brand, and it’s challenging,” said Weil.

When Weil met the SA Jewish Report this week, she was exhausted after contracting a cold in an action-packed few weeks of defying time and financial constraints.

“We filmed for 28 days nonstop, going straight into the finale, pulling it off in literally less than five days. It’s been insane,” said Weil, who has learnt many lessons along the way. One of these was to hire a production company next time, and not “take on the role of executive producer of a television show,” she said, conceding that she may have bitten off more than she could chew.

However, she has been on a mission to develop Miss SA ever since she took over the brand in 2019, having learnt the ropes alongside her late mother, public relations and communications specialist Suzanne Weil, who bought into the brand in 2013.

“She had me working at registration desks from 13 years old and being there with her I don’t think I could’ve got better training,” she said.

Weil believes beauty is but one facet of a multidimensional Miss SA. “Miss SA doesn’t pretend to be someone she’s not, nor does she conform to societal pressures or expectations that go against her core values. Instead, I want her to embrace her unique qualities, quirks, and imperfections, understanding that these are what make her distinctive and real,” Weil says.

“It’s not just about reshaping beauty standards, it’s about unveiling the brilliance within each woman and lighting the way for a new generation of unstoppable leaders and ambassadors,” Weil says. Ultimately it’s about empowerment and authenticity, she insists.

Weil knew she was onto something when shortly after she become chief executive of Miss SA, Zozibini Tunzi went on to win the title and became the first black woman from South Africa to be crowned Miss Universe.

“That was a definite career highlight,” said Weil. “Zozibini’s decision not to wear a weave during the pageant instantly inspired other women to embrace their natural hair and beauty. I could just see how she could make a huge difference in the world. It was the perfect time to witness a shift in the beauty narrative, and I could feel we were on the right track of what this empowerment movement could be.”

One of her career lows was having to face the possibility that Crown Chasers wasn’t going to materialise due to funding issues.

“I had been dreaming of this show for so long, and the very real possibility that it would all fall apart at the last minute was distressing,” she said.

Another career low was the bullying from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) lobby group during the controversial reign of Miss SA 2021, Lalela Mswane, who chose to participate in the Miss Universe pageant in Israel.

“I think I’ve erased it from my memory because it was so traumatic,” Weil said. “The constant death threats and intimidation by members of BDS, who menacingly pitched up outside my offices – it was a lot. It required trauma counselling, and I was incredibly lucky to have the South African Jewish Board of Deputies on my side,” she said.

“I was determined to go ahead, not because Lalela wanted to, but because these people were encroaching on something that was personal – my religion and my strong Jewish roots, of which I’m proud, my Israel.

“I was never going to give up, I didn’t care how much pressure there was. Lalela was so strong, stronger than me at times. There were moments when I was like, ‘Let’s give up,’ and she was, ‘No, we’re in this, we’re doing this.’ She was so determined, she had worked so hard, she was strong from the word go. At the end of the day, it wasn’t only about me, it was about our community, it was about what it would say to them if I didn’t do it. It was about what I stand for.” But she admits she was terrified.

All that is behind her, as Weil soldiers on to champion authenticity as the essence of beauty. “My dream is to create an army of empowered women who are ready to go into battle and take the world by storm,” she says.

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