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Student makes Top 10 in Miss Africa USA pageant with Redefining BEAUTY campaign

Photo courtesy of Deborah Gillis-Harry.

A Texas State student has been redefining society’s idea of beauty and encouraging self-love across campus.

Deborah Gillis-Harry, also known as Deborah Queen, legal studies graduate student, accomplished this through her organization, Redefining BEAUTY: Becoming Educated Artistic and Understanding Towards Yourself.

Queen was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and recently represented the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the Miss Africa USA 2016 beauty pageant.

After a long and strenuous journey, Queen made it to the Top 10—something she described as unbelievable and uplifting.

The organization she funded has become the main focus of her pageant platform over the years. Redefining BEAUTY encourages young women to love themselves and those around them.

While many contestants had sponsors and managers throughout the process, Queen was independent through it all.

From planning costume designs and fundraising to preparing platform presentations, Queen made it a goal to make it to the top on her own, having only family support her along the way.

Jennifer Gillis-Harry, Queen’s older sister, supported her during emergency situations.

When Queen’s headpiece did not arrive from overseas on time, her sister created one from scratch.

“I’m not a visionary,” Jennifer Gillis-Harry said. “As I work with my hands, the creativity comes to me.”

After hours of planning, learning and creating, Jennifer Gillis-Harry designed and constructed a headpiece for one of Queen’s many pageant outfits.

Queen attributes much of her pageant success to the platform video she made. Her video took off on social media outlets such as Facebook.

When women and young girls saw the video, they reached out to Queen saying how much it changed their perspectives on beauty and their lives.

“I entered this beauty pageant to show people that this is what the world tells you what beauty is, but beauty is so much deeper than that,” Queen said. “Beauty is something that’s inside of you— it’s a journey.”

Jennifer Gillis-Harry said she remembers the first time Queen’s message really spoke to her.

“When you’re behind the scenes and in the process, it is so easy to miss the message,” Jennifer Gillis-Harry said. “During her third pageant, I was listening to her and I realized that discovering yourself and discovering your passions really changes things. Some people don’t even know the most authentic versions of themselves.”

Jennifer Gillis-Harry said she struggled with physical insecurities throughout her life. However, she said insecurities are common due to the world’s take on what beauty is—most often something artificial and untrue.

“Redefining BEAUTY helped me realize that once you are inside (yourself), that’s what beauty is really about,” Jennifer Gillis-Harry said.

Queen’s mother, Phina Gillis-Harry, supports her daughter’s platform and believes a woman’s confidence is an important characteristic to have.

“I know that this platform is one thing that I believe in,” Phina Gillis-Harry said. “When I listen to her, I know that this girl has a fire burning inside of her that cannot be turned off.”

Although the pageant process is complex, Queen plans on competing in the future. She has long-term goals to become Miss World and Miss Universe one day.

Queen is now focusing on finishing a thesis for graduate school, working on a novel and expanding her Redefining BEAUTY organization.