At 8:00 p.m. tomorrow night, 65 women from across the country will gather at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to compete for the coveted title of Miss Universe Canada—and 27-year old Katherine Highgate will be one of them. If she wins, Highgate will make history as the second Black woman to win Miss Universe Canada, and the third to represent Canada at Miss Universe.
Highgate is running on the platform that there is beauty in diversity. With just seven other African-Canadian women in this year’s competition, Highgate believes that, if she wins, it will show more young women that pageantry isn’t as exclusive as it once was.
For this year’s finalists in the Miss Universe Canada contest, the past week has been chock full of 6:00 a.m. wake-up calls, field trips to various Toronto schools to talk about female empowerment and a gala fundraiser for the Colombia Refugees Association. Despite the whirlwind schedule, Highgate made time to chat with FLARE about how she got involved with pageantry and why she believes diverse representation is of the utmost importance.
You grew up in Dresden, Ont. How did you come to be involved with pageantry?
I love my small-town roots, but I always felt a little out of place. When you’re coming of age, and you don’t see faces that look like yours, it can be difficult to see your own beauty. I was often the only African-Canadian kid in my school and I always the only African-Canadian in my grade. I felt self-conscious, especially about things like my hair. My mom had this idea to put me in a pageant, and it made me feel like I was finally being recognized. It was such a positive experience.
You also competed for the title of Miss Universe Canada last year. What made you decide to come back?
The group of women I competed with last year were absolutely amazing; their work ethic and drive really motivated me. The women who go really far in this competition have amazing focus, and that made me want to come back and be my personal best.
What sets you apart from the other delegates this year?
I feel like I bring creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to this competition. I’m not the traditional Pageant Patty by any means. I feel like Miss Universe is changing, and the organization wants more relatable representatives—more “real girls.” I think a lot of people will be able to relate to me and my self-esteem issues.
The current Miss Universe Canada, Siera Bearchell, has been very outspoken against body shaming and online bullying. As Miss Universe Canada, what would you speak about?
Above all else, my platform is beauty in diversity. This is the 65th edition of Miss Universe Canada, and Juliette Powell was the first and only Black woman to win [back in 1989]. In 2012, another lovely Black woman Adwoa Yamoah didn’t win, but later stepped into the role. We have so much beautiful diversity in Canada, and I want to see that better reflected. I think people are hesitant to participate because they don’t see people who look like them.
I don’t think you necessarily need the crown to show the diversity that is Canada and to give young girls of colour someone who represents them, but when I was a kid, I didn’t think a lot of things were possible for me because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me doing it.
Do you feel pressure to look a certain way for the competition?
Fitness is a big part of it. The criteria is “fit,” and for a lot of people, that brings to mind “skinny.” For me, it’s about being in the best physical shape. It takes a lot of self-discipline to not have that glass of champagne on your birthday. Pageantry is a lot about self-discipline and focus. You also have to be mentally fit. It’s important to look at your other competitors and try to emulate what they’re doing well, but it can also be dangerous to compare yourself head-to-head, so you have to be aware of that. You have to remember that “fit” doesn’t always equate with “thin.”
Have your pageantry experiences helped you build your career?
Pageants have helped me to develop a super thick skin, which you definitely need as an aspiring media professional. When you open yourself up to do something publicly, you’ll get some great feedback and you’ll get some not so great feedback.
What’s one piece of advice you always give?
I’m 27-years old, and for the first time, I’ve just decided to accept my flaws and be fiercely confident. I wish I’d had that mentality all through my 20s. You’re worth it, so invest in yourself.
What’s one thing you always do to pick yourself up after a shitty day?
The one thing I usually do is eat M&Ms, but I’ve had to wean myself off of that for the pageant. I’ve tried replacing it with every healthy recipe in the book, but when they say it’s “cauliflower pizza,” it tastes nothing like pizza!