By now, you’ve all heard the story of how Cheslie Kryst, the 2019 winner of the Miss USA Pageant, took her own life. She left a note leaving everything to her mother. She wrote a post saying, “May this day bring you rest and peace.” And then she jumped from the balcony of a Midtown Manhattan high-rise.
I admit to sitting and crying as I read this story. Cheslie was a beauty-pageant winner, a TV news reporter, an attorney and many other things. Cheslie was what little girls dream of becoming and, quite frankly, that’s an amazing list of accomplishments for a 30-year-old woman. But society said it wasn’t enough. Everyone wants to know why. But I think the clues really lie in an essay she wrote for Allure magazine in March of 2021 as she approached her milestone 30th birthday.
Milestone. 30. If that’s a milestone it’s a beginning milestone. And as I’m almost 40 years older than this beautiful young woman, I’m sure my thoughts are very different. In Cheslie’s world, things were very different. Society disapproved.
NOTE: I put Cheslie’s words in italics to distinguish those words from mine. I have complete quotation marks around each excerpt as I’m not sure if these quotes are in the exact order written.
I’m Too Old
“Each time I say ‘I’m turning 30,’ I cringe a little. Sometimes I can successfully mask this uncomfortable response with excitement; other times, my enthusiasm feels hollow, like bad acting.”
“Society has never been kind to those growing old, especially women. (Occasional exceptions are made for some of the rich and a few of the famous.)”
That’s definitely truth up above, but again. . . 30 is old? Really? Society has a lot to answer for.
When Cheslie was crowned Miss USA at age 28, she was the oldest woman in history to win the title. Pageant fans immediately petitioned for the age limit to be lowered.
“A grinning, crinkly-eyed glance at my achievements thus far makes me giddy about laying the groundwork for more, but turning 30 feels like a cold reminder that I’m running out of time to matter in society’s eyes — and it’s infuriating.”
“Society’s eyes.” Society once more. Running out of time? She had her whole life in front of her. Cheslie, you mattered. You mattered in the eyes of your family and all who loved you. You mattered to all of the little girls who watched that pageant and wanted to grow up to be just like you. Your life mattered. Screw society.
Growing Old Is Supposed To Be A Treasure
“After a year like 2020, you would think we’d learned that growing old is a treasure and maturity is a gift not everyone gets to enjoy.”
“Far too many of us allow ourselves to be measured by a standard that some sternly refuse to challenge and others simply acquiesce to because fitting in and going with the flow is easier than rowing against the current.”
Oh, how well I know this one from my own family. Took me way too long to realize there’s no shame in being different. It’s even refreshing in this day and age of cookie-cutter people.
“I fought this fight before and it’s the battle I’m currently fighting with 30. How do I shake society’s unwavering norms when I’m facing the relentless tick of time? It’s the age-old question: What happens when ‘immovable’ meets ‘unstoppable?’”
Here we go again. “Society’s unwavering norms.” Society. Who IS society? When did it start caring about people? The answer is that society doesn’t care. It just sets a false standard that most are afraid to challenge. Cheslie challenged it. She should still be here fighting the good fight.
Attorney, MBA, Pageant Winner, TV Host – Sorry, Baby, Not Enough
Please keep in mind that this beautiful young woman earned a law degree and an MBA at the same time at Wake Forest University. She was a track athlete in her undergrad years at the University of South Carolina.
“I joined a trial team at school and won a national championship. I competed in moot court; won essay competitions; and earned local, regional, and national executive board positions.”
“I nearly worked myself to death, literally, until an eight-day stint in a local hospital sparked the development of a new perspective.”
“I discovered that the world’s most important question, especially when asked repeatedly and answered frankly, is: why? Why earn more achievements just to collect another win? Why pursue another plaque or medal or line item on my resume if it’s for vanity’s sake, rather than out of passion? Why work so hard to capture the dreams I’ve been taught by society to want when I continue to only find emptiness?”
Cheslie Kryst was the American dream. She busted her ass to obtain the trophy — the degree or, in her case, DEGREES. Isn’t that what we are taught is important? Grab that brass ring at all costs. Who taught us? In some cases our parents, but in many. . . society, but only if you do it when and how they want you to.
Beauty Is Not Always In The Eyes Of The Beholder
Here’s another part of the equation. Cheslie won her title with a “five-foot-six frame with six-pack abs” and a “head of natural curls” while “pageant girls are supposed to be model-tall and slender, don bouffant hair, and have a killer walk.”
“My challenge of the status quo certainly caught the attention of the trolls, and I can’t tell you how many times I have deleted comments on my social media pages that had vomit emojis and insults telling me I wasn’t pretty enough to be Miss USA or that my muscular build was actually a ‘man body.’”
So society taught her she didn’t count because she didn’t fit what the gawkers wanted to see. She was black with black hair. She was shorter than most. She had an athlete’s body. And she was SMART. Can’t have SMART women running around despoiling their beauty, eh? And to add insult to injury, she wasn’t afraid to speak her truth.
She Had An Opinion (SHOCK, HORROR, GASP!)
“Women who compete in pageants are supposed to have a middle-of-the-road opinion — if any — so as not to offend. I talked candidly about my views on the legalization of marijuana, the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, anti-abortion laws, the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and the successes and failures of criminal justice reform.”
Cheslie Kryst spent her 30th birthday in her apartment, “parading around in a black silk top, matching shorts, and a floor-length robe while scarfing down banana pudding and screening birthday calls.”
“I even wore my crown around the apartment for most of the day knowing I’d have to give it back at the end of my reign as Miss USA. I did what I wanted rather than the expected.”
“Now, I now enter year 30 searching for joy and purpose on my own terms — and that feels like my own sweet victory.”
And Now Her Light Is Gone
I wish I knew what happened to take that “sweet victory” away from this amazing young woman, why she thought she had no other choice but to jump off that balcony. I pray comfort and peace on all who loved her.
And I call down curses on “society,” this narrow segment of the population who feel it’s my way or the highway — no highway option. Conform or else. Cheslie chose the “or else” and we are all the worse for it. But while she was here with us, she spread her light. We needed that light. Damn society straight to hell!
Society kills. I shudder to think who its next victim will be. Please don’t make it you. If you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours: 800-273-8255.
The night of Cheslie’s “sweet victory.”