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World-Changing Miss Universe Contestants

Beauty pageants aren’t new to the scene. Women have been taking the stage to demonstrate their beauty — in looks, mind, and passion — for centuries. It wasn’t until 1952, however, that the end-all be-all of competitions created a sole beauty queen: Miss Universe.

Over seven decades, the competition and its winners have dazzled us time and time again with breathtaking beauty and world-changing ambitions. In fact, these Miss Universe title holders and trendsetters from years past are still leaving us stunned today!

1. Trinidad & Tobago (1998): Wendy Fitzwilliam was the first contestant to wear a two-piece on stage! She went on to become a lawyer and advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness, and was honored by the United Nations for her service.


2. Finland (1952): The first Miss Universe winner was 17-year-old Armi Kuusela. While touring the world after her victory, she met her future husband, a Filipino business man named Virgilio Hilario.


3. India (1994): At only 18 years old, Sushmita Sen won over the judges, bringing honor to her family and country. The daughter of an Indian Air Force Wing Commander and a jewelry designer went on to model and act in the Hindi, Tamil, and Bengali film scene.

Miss Universe, LLC

4. Trinidad & Tobago (1977): The first black woman to win, Janelle Commissiong paved the way for future Miss Universe participants by using her platform to advocate for minority rights. As a result, her home country awarded her the Trinity Cross medal.


5. Chile (1987): One of the most prestigious pageant winners, Cecilia Bolocco made a career out of being a Spanish-speaking journalist for CNN, Telemundo, and other television programs, which earned her two Emmy awards.

CNN Chile

6. United States of America (1954): Miriam Stevenson was the first American to win after a tie-breaking decision crowned her over Brazil’s Martha Rocha. Following her reign as Miss Universe, Stevenson remained in the limelight as a Miss Universe judge and TV host.

HO / Miss Universe Organization L.P., LLLP

7. Mexico (2010): Born in Guadalajara, Ximena Navarrete returned to her hometown after winning to work with Children International, a humanitarian organization focused on helping impoverished children.


8. Japan (1959): It was during the 8th annual Miss Universe pageant that the first Asian contestant, Akiko Kojima, was crowned. But the 22-year-old didn’t use her newfound fame to further her career in the spotlight; instead, she chose a quiet married life.

MissUniverse / Scoop Nest

9. Australia (2004): From the Land Down Under, nothing about her accomplishments were underwhelming. Jennifer Hawkins became the CEO and founder of two companies, the manager of a portfolio of properties, and host of Australia’s Next Top Model.

The Herald

10. Norway (1990): Mona Grudt was the first and only Miss Universe contestant from Norway. The last to accompany Bob Hope on his tour to entertain the troops, she also guest starred on Star Trek and placed second on Norwegian Dancing with the Stars.

NTB scanpix

11. Greece (1964): Corinna Tsopei won over the judges with her desire to help people if given the platform to do so. She followed through on her promise and used her crown to become chairman for an organization that aided children diagnosed with leukemia.


12. United States of America (1995): Hailing from Texas and raised by great-grandparents, Chelsi Smith was the first contestant of African-American descent to become queen. Afterwards, she pursued a career in acting, singing, and television hosting.


13. Philippines (1969): Gloria Diaz was the first Filipino crowned Miss Universe. Shortly after winning the title, she landed a mega role in the Philippine film industry. To this day, she is still recognized as one of the country’s best actresses.

IMG Miss Universe, LLC

14. Russia (2002): Oxana Fedorova was the first Russian contestant to win after the fall of the Soviet Union. For reasons that are still unclear, Fedorova was stripped of her title just 119 days later after being unable to fulfill her Miss Universe duties.


15. Israel (1976): Miss Universe winner Rina Messinger wanted to show “Israel [had] another side, not only war.” When asked which country she wanted to visit after winning, Messinger replied, “an Arab one.” She actually went to Thailand.


16. Philippines (2015): This year, pageant host Steve Harvey accidentally crowned Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez, by mistake. It was painful to watch Gutierrez take the crown off her head and give it to the rightful winner: Miss Philippines, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach.

John Locer

17. Colombia (2014): Paulina Vega, born to a cardiologist, always had a passion for the medical field. After getting crowned, Vega joined the fight against HIV/AIDS, volunteering with many organizations and marching in the New York City AIDS walk.

Andrew Innerarity / Reuters

18. Canada (1982): Beating out the United States, Guam, Italy, and Greece, Canada made history when Kate Dianne Baldwin won. She remained in the spotlight for many years following her reign, but ultimately chose a career in real estate.


19. Japan (2007): At 4-years-old, Riyo Mori started her career as a dancer. Following her win, she starred in Donald Trump’s Pageant Place and Jessica Simpson’s The Price of Beauty. She fulfilled her lifelong dream of opening a multicultural dance school.

Andrew Winning / Reuters

20. South Africa (2017): During the competition, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters took a stand for women’s rights when she pointed out that there are still parts of the world where “women get paid 75% of what men earn for doing the same job.”

21. Philippines (2018): Despite moving to the Philippines when she was 18, the half-Scottish, half-Filipino Catriona Elisa Magnayon won several beauty titles for the country thanks to her famous slow-mo twirl.