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Editor’s note: This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
With the recent deaths of beloved pageant competitors, many within the community are reeling and wanting to shed light on the larger, global mental health crisis.
Jennifer Lloyd, who is well-versed in the world of pageantry and honed her craft after competing for decades with recent accolades including earning the Mrs. Korea World title, spoke to Fox News Digital about how despite the glitz and glam presented on stage, competitors are facing devastating mental health issues behind the scenes with insurmountable consequences.
“It’s hit pageantry pretty hard recently,” she said. “Unfortunately, mental illness is not discriminatory. It shouldn’t matter if you’re old or young, if you’re married, unmarried or how many degrees you have — any sense of loss or anxiety or depression really does affect a person.”
For Lloyd, she too, is a “survivor of suicide.” “Not myself, but my brother’s — my family’s experiences,” the pageant judge, coach and mentor to young women in the pageant industry said. “I haven’t been very public about it because suicide is a real personal issue, and I’m still healing from that, but now I see the importance of talking about it because we need to build more awareness.”
The pageant community recently lost former “Toddlers & Tiaras” star Kailia Posey, who died by suicide on May 2. She became known for her widely circulated meme of the “Grinning Girl” — a screen grab of her enthusiastic smile from a 2011 episode of the popular TLC show.
Posey’s family has shared that they’ve set up a Whatcom Community Foundation fund in Posey’s name in hopes of getting “much needed resources to students in crisis.”
Lloyd, who also works as a school board director, noted that day-to-day pressure is abundant for any young adult, but additional burdens from picture-perfect lifestyles projected on social media, peer pressure, and the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could have the potential to weigh heavily on pageant competitors.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re seeing it even now in pageantry, because you would think … As a judge, you want to watch these intelligent, driven young leaders in their community come in,” Lloyd, a mother-of-six with daughters in the pageant circuit, said. “They look so polished. They have coaching. They’re prepared to take on a title and be a public figure.
“But we cannot be naive — as mothers, as a judge or as a community member — that the children, they’re not superheroes. They all deal with some sort of stress or depression, anxiety.”
Shortly before Posey’s death, the pageant world was shocked by the death of Former 2019 Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, who took her own life on Jan. 30. Not only had Kryst recently competed in the Miss Universe pageant, she was a former Division I athlete and a North Carolina attorney with a law degree and an MBA at Wake Forest University.
Her mother, April Simpkins, discussed Kryst’s secret struggle with high-functioning depression during a recent appearance on Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk.
“Depression is not always marked by people laying in bed,” Simpkins said. “There are people who are high functioning and getting through the day. Cheslie wore the face.”
Simpkins revealed her daughter began showing signs of depression in her early 20s and had previously attempted suicide, but they both took the experience as a way to bridge communication gaps and Simpkins thought they had become closer than before.
“I wanted her to feel comfortable calling me: ‘If ever you’re in crisis, call me,’” Simpkins said, adding that Kryst even showed signs of progress. “She began taking all the right steps. She began seeing a counselor. She was getting good sleep at night. She knew all the things to do.”
Maureen Francisco, the executive producer of NW Productions, LLC and co-founder of the Global Beauty Award show, noticed early in her career that mental health was an important discussion to be had across the board.
“I think we’re just becoming much more aware of it and there’s no taboo about talking about it,” she said. “I think maybe in the past, there was a taboo if you said you’re not doing well mentally, but now I think there is an OK discussion. If you tell somebody, ‘Hey, I just need someone to talk to’ you’re not going to be frowned upon.”
Francisco agreed that the pageant community has “definitely been hit hard” recently in the wake of Posey and Kryst’s deaths, and encouraged contestants to always remember life is like a season — it ebbs and flows, and the only thing that remains consistent is the constant reminder that change is on the horizon.
“The main thing is people need to be kind, and you don’t know what somebody is going through,” Francisco, who worked alongside Posey in the last competition before her death, said. “You really, really don’t know … If they can just be kind to that person. Words have an impact.”
She added: “There’s deep, deep things going on with people and the more that we talk about it, the more people know that there are resources to seek help. And it’s OK. It’s not selfish if you focus on yourself trying to be the best you. You should not apologize for trying to be the very best you can be.”
Lloyd echoed the sentiment, encouraging organizers to offer more support in the wake of the tragedies.
“There needs to be more conversations with big organizations as well, just like whether that’s a check in or, you know, just more talk,” Lloyd said. “It shouldn’t just be the contestants talking about it at the platform, but maybe the organizations, as a whole, could have more conversations.”