Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel announced inclusive changes at the Miss Universe Organization during Tanner Fletcher’s spring 2024 New York Fashion Week show Tuesday titled “Beauty Pageant.”
The Miss Universe beauty pageant, which has been around since 1952, has now eliminated age limits for delegates over 18 years old. Previously, the pageant had an age limit of 28 years old for contestants.
“What I love about Miss Universe is that they are always out first in line, looking for ways they can be more inclusive and better live up to the platform that they’ve designed for us,” Gabriel exclusively told WWD. “It’s a bold group of women in charge over here, and you know what, a lot of people tend to follow what we do — it’s nice to be a standard-bearer, and I’m proud that we get to do this.”
Gabriel, 29, is the oldest Miss Universe to date, and joined a group of models that represented a wide span of ages on Fletcher’s runway to add visibility to the organization’s message. The policy change is effective for 2024 pageants worldwide.
“We are thrilled to have partnered with the Miss Universe Organization on a ‘Beauty Pageant’ of our very own,” Fletcher Kasell, cofounder and creative director of Tanner Fletcher, said in a statement. “It’s wonderful to open up the world of Tanner Fletcher to other organizations who share a similar, uplifting and empowering vision. We are aligned on the belief that all people no matter the societal boxes they have been put into deserve to act as their authentic selves and be celebrated for it.”
Gabriel initially brought up the issue of age during the 2023 pageant’s question-and-answer segment. She recalled, “I answered an onstage question: ‘If you were going to make any changes to the organization’s rules, what would they be?’ I said to raise the age limit. When I competed, the age limit was 28, and I was 28 at the time. So, my answer was that I think we should change this — a woman’s ability to compete at Miss Universe, or anything in life, shouldn’t be defined by her age. Age should just be a number.”
She added that she believes the message of diverse representation was abounded during her first turn at New York Fashion Week for spring 2024 runways, where she attended the Sixdo and Alice + Olivia shows.
“I have noticed that there seems to be more inclusivity when it comes to the runway shows. Different body types, different shapes and sizes, even men walking in shows where designers are doing genderless clothing,” Gabriel said. “I think there’s still room for improvement when it comes to inclusion, but I like the direction that it’s going.”
Progress has come swiftly for the Miss Universe Organization since the pageant’s owner Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip — a transgender businesswoman who purchased the organization for $20 million last year — took the helm. During the ceremony on Jan. 14, she announced “transformational leadership in order to enhance the organization’s long-standing heritage.”
The 2023 season saw the end of restrictions on contestants who are married, divorced and pregnant. The next Miss Universe competition will be held Nov. 18 in El Salvador.
Another area Gabriel said she will use her role to advocate for change is sustainability in the fashion. “There’s still a lot that needs to be done but it’s my responsibility as Miss Universe, and even after my reign, to continue the conversation and continue to raise awareness on this.”
Gabriel is already doing her part for an eco-conscious fashion industry as the founder of her namesake casualwear brand, often working with upcycled materials.
“When my role as Miss Universe is done, I’m very excited to dive back into building that brand — it’s all about sustainability.”