They are famous for their outer beauty and now Miss Universe delegates are raising awareness of personal wellness.
Miss USA R Bonnie Gabrielle was named Miss Universe 2022 during Sunday’s dazzling awards ceremony, but under the glitz and glamor was a stark message about mental health at pageants and beyond.
Contestants and their families have been speaking out more than ever about breaking the stigma around mental health, including former Miss USA’s mother Chesley Krist, who paid tribute to her daughter at the Miss Universe 2022 final in New Orleans. Crist, who was diagnosed with depression, died by suicide in January last year.
Her mother, April Simpkins, praised the pageant community for their support of Crest and announced a partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness on her behalf.
Simpkins spoke passionately to hundreds of spectators and live audiences around the world in the finale. “Chesley loved the Miss Universe communities,” she said. “I have often spoken of the support she has received from all of you and beyond the Organization of the Universe, and for that, I am forever grateful. I especially wanted to be here tonight to thank all my fans for their love and support.
“As many of you know, because we’ve both dealt with high-functioning depression, the Cheslie you saw didn’t always match what you felt inside. Just because someone says they’re fine doesn’t mean they are.”
The 30-year-old lawyer, Krist, won the Miss Teen USA pageant in 2019 and went on to work as a host for the American entertainment news program Extra. As she is doing so well in her daily life despite being diagnosed with depression, it was difficult for those around her to notice that she was not feeling well.
Simpkins now hopes to encourage open conversations in the industry and beyond. “We all need to hear it when we check our friends strong,” she added in the pageant. “Create a safe space, so they have room to share if they face challenges. Most importantly, we need to really listen and support them.”
The Cheslie Kryst Memorial Mental Health Fund, Simpkins announced, will focus on a range of mental health challenges. “I am honored to be here tonight to share Chesley’s story and ask that you share it too,” she said. “Share with others in hopes that together we can break the stigma and talk more about mental health.”
Ahead of the final, Miss Universe Bahrain Evelyn Khalifa told The National that she focuses on self-care to deal with stress and praised the supportive nature of beauty pageants. “All of us [the delegates] have a WhatsApp group chat where we can talk,” she says. “All the girls are so supportive, kind and caring for each other.
“We talk about life, about mental health issues, and everyone is polite, friendly and gives everyone time to talk. Nobody interrupts and nobody fights or competes.”
Khalifa also participated, along with Miss Universe Lebanon Yasmina Zeitoun and seven other Miss Universe 2022 contestants, in a live online group discussion on mental health before the end of the pageant. Share their stories and discuss their mental health and what affects it, particularly in the context of the pressure they put on while working at the festival. For example, Miss Universe Cayman Islands spoke about growing up with a mother with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and how sports helped her change her life.
Last year’s Miss Universe winner Harnaaz Sandhu also opened up about how her mental health was affected by vicious trolls who called her “fat” after celiac disease made her gain weight during her reign.
Speaking to People magazine in the US, Sandhu said: “I went through that phase in my life where I used to feel bad about everything. Now I’m starting to love everything. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be sad. We need to realize that there comes a time. point where we understood that we need to embrace our imperfections and when you do that, you can accomplish anything in this world.”
Another delegate who championed mental health in preparation for Miss Universe 2022 is Miss Universe Philippines, Celeste Cortese. The philanthropist regularly supports MindNation, which supports mental health around the world. In September, Cortese was the face of the organization’s Suicide Prevention Month campaign, which saw her appear on social media with the message, “It’s okay not to be okay,” and encourage people to seek help if they need it.
Following Crist’s death, Catriona Gray, Miss Universe 2018, one of four previous winners from the Philippines, paid tribute to the former beauty queen, highlighting the impact of social media on the mental health of pageant contestants. “There are two different sides to the festival, or there’s the really positive side – I feel powerful, I feel confident, I feel like I have a voice, I have a platform. Then there’s the other side where I feel the pressure, I’m bullied and I’m embarrassed, I’m dragged down.” I think it’s really sad that it’s so polarizing,” she said.