By: Emily Heil
Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber didn’t just pick up the coveted crown during Sunday night’s televised Miss USA pageant — she threw down an unusually forceful answer during the beauty contest’s typically insipid interview portion that had the audience cheering.
Asked by fashion stylist Joe Zee, one of the celebrity judges, about the Pentagon’s decision to open up combat jobs to women, the Army reserve-officer-turned-beauty-queen didn’t bat an eyelash (metaphorically, of course; Barber’s falsies fluttered throughout).
“As a woman in the United States Army, I think it was an amazing job by our government to allow women to integrate to every branch of the military,” she said. “We are just as tough as men. As a commander of my unit, I am powerful. I am dedicated. And it is important that we recognize that gender does not limit us in the United States Army.”
Barber’s sure-footed answer might just have landed her the title (although her equally confident sashay in a string-tie bikini across the stage of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas Strip probably didn’t hurt).
She certainly fared better than other competitors who wobbled during their Q&As: Runner-up Miss Hawaii Chelsea Hardin looked flustered, then dodged when asked if she would vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. And Miss California, Nadia Grace Mejia, struggled while fielding a question about the economy — to much Twitter mockery.
Barber’s win marks the first time in 14 years (and only third time in history) that a Miss D.C. has taken home the national title, and she is, according to the pageant, its first military member to wear the crown. She’ll go on to compete in the Miss Universe pageant later this year.
So what do we know about the 26-year-old beauty-pageant royalty?
She’s a government wonk — and an Army reservist. Barber is an IT consultant at the Commerce Department, and she spends two days a month fulfilling her reservist duties. According to her Miss USA bio, she is a quartermaster officer and a logistics commander for the 988th Quartermaster Detachment Unit at Fort Meade, Md. She told the AP after the pageant that she discussed going inactive while fulfilling her duties as Miss USA. “My commander should be watching right now,” Barber told the AP. “Two days a month is definitely not active duty. It is an obligation that I signed up for, but they are very flexible in the United States Army Reserves.”
She went into the family business. Her father is a retired Army master sergeant, who served in Iraq after Sept. 11, 2001, and her mother, brother, and sister have also worn military uniforms. “I consider it to be a family tradition,” she said in a pre-pageant interview. “It’s something that runs through our veins — patriotism and service for this country.
She’s moved around, but the D.C. area is home base. Barber was born in Georgia, and moved around the United States during her father’s various postings. According to her LinkedIn profile, she got her bachelor’s degree from Virginia State University in 2011 and a master’s degree in 2015 from the University of Maryland University College in management information systems and services.
The AP story identifies her as living in “Northeast D.C.,” and her parents own a home in Woodbridge, Va.
She has a sweet tooth, and she’s sweet. Barber’s hobbies include “hiking, dancing her heart out and going to the movies,” according to a Miss D.C. USA questionnaire. And she told the pageant organizers that she “feels most beautiful when she’s having a relaxing day in her apartment in her pajamas, cookies-and-cream ice cream by her side.” Asked what she can’t live without, her relateable answer: “chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate.”
And according to pageant insiders, Barber’s nice-gal persona isn’t just for the cameras. She’s “super gracious,” according to one. Says a former competitor: “She’s driven, and she’s there to win … but she’s not one of those few mean girls.”