RICHMOND, Va. — After the tragic death of 30-year-old Cheslie Kryst, the 2019 winner of the Miss USA pageant and a correspondent for the entertainment news program “Extra," the beauty pageant community is highlighting the importance of mental health.
During an interview with Mrs. Virginia United States 2021, Brandi Pope on Monday, she glanced down at her crown and was reminded of what it meant to her.
Picking it up, she said, “This doesn't change what's in here," as she pointed to her heart.
Pope's title is only a small fraction of who she is. She's also a mother, motivational speaker, and social media influencer. At first, she might seem like a beauty queen who has it all.
“It's easy to look good on the outside and be quite literally dying on the inside," she said.
But many people might not know that Pope suffered through an intense battle with depression and even thought about taking her own life.
After overcoming her demons, Pope made it her mission to bring mental health advocacy to her pageant platforms.
That's one of the many reasons why the tragedy involving Cheslie Kryst has her feeling gutted.
“It was one of those moments where you feel like you just got that air knocked out of you," Pope said about her reaction to the news.
While they didn't know each other personally, Pope was inspired by Kryst's boldness and confidence — joking that they had an unspoken connection because of their curly hair. Pope credits Kryst with being the reason why she competed in a pageant recently with her natural hair.
“When I saw her win, it was like if she can win with her curly hair, being 100%, her authentic self, then surely I can do this again 100% me," she said.
Meanwhile, Miss Virginia Volunteer 2021 Breana Turner said the tragedy should bring awareness to a larger conversation beyond the beauty world.
“She might have been suffering alone, and no one knew," Turner said. “Especially for women, and then women of color, we have to recognize that we're human. And that's enough. And our accomplishments are not what define us.”
Turner, who is also a doctoral student and manages a mentoring program, said women who have achieved so much often deal with immense pressure and sometimes are not given the space to take care of themselves.
She is on a mission to redefine superwoman, as she calls it, to a woman who is super.
“We cannot celebrate our success, our accomplishments if we are not okay. Mentally, physically, spiritually," she said.
To those who may be struggling in the wake of Kryst's death, both Turner and Pope have words of advice.
"Regardless of what you're going through, whether it's a moment of sadness or a season of depression, you're absolutely worthy of living a life of longevity," Turner said.
“As alone as it feels like they are in that moment, they aren't alone," Pope said. "There are so many people that are going through the same thing, and I would 100% say please, please, please, please reach out for help."
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for those in distress: 1-800-273-8255.