Miss USA Noelia Voigt resigns title on mental health grounds

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Reigning Miss USA Noelia Voigt has resigned her title, citing mental health challenges.

Ms Voigt, who won the annual competition in September, said she believed in making decisions “that feel best for you and your mental health”.

“Never compromise your physical and mental wellbeing,” she wrote on Instagram. “Our health is our wealth.”

The Miss USA organisation said it supported her decision and would announce a successor.

The 24-year-old Venezuelan-American, of Utah, said that she hoped to “continue to inspire others” as she started “a new chapter” in life.

“Prioritise your mental health, advocate for yourself and others by using your voice and never be afraid of what the future holds, even if it feels uncertain,” she said.

She expressed her gratitude for her seven months as Miss USA, which she said gave her a “platform … to make a difference” as well as realise a “lifelong dream” and meeting “people all over the world.”

Miss USA thanked Ms Voigt and said on Instagram that “the well-being of our titleholders is a top priority”.

The organisation said it was reviewing plans for the “transition of responsibilities to a successor”.

Savannah Gankiewicz of Hawaii came second to Ms Voigt in last year’s competition. The New York Times reported Ms Gankiewicz has already been offered the title.

While health professionals praised the decision to step down, fans have speculated about her motivation to renounce her crown little over seven months into the role.

“When mental illness gets in the way of someone’s ability to go about not just their day-to-day activities, but to actually do their job, it is as life-threatening and as severe as untreated diabetes [and] uncontrolled high blood pressure,” Dr Jen Ashton, an American health correspondent, told Good Morning America in reaction to the news.

Ms Voigt’s resignation came three days after Miss USA’s social media director, Claudia Michelle, announced her own resignation from the brand, citing alleged “workplace toxicity and bullying” and saying that titleholders “should be heard and not silenced”.

“I have had the privilege of getting to work with Noelia closely and unfortunately seen a decline in her mental health since we first met,” Ms Michelle wrote in a statement.

Ms Voigt’s “ability to share her story and her platform have been diminished”, she claimed.

Miss USA told USA Today that Ms Michelle’s statement contained “false accusations”, and said the organisation was “committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and supportive environment, and we take these allegations seriously.

“Indeed, we have and will continue to prioritize the well-being of all individuals involved with Miss USA.”

But fans on social media noticed that the first letter of each sentence of Ms Voigt’s lengthy resignation statement spelled out “I AM SILENCED” – though the final three sentences spelled “HIP”. Beneath her resignation statement posted to Instagram, dozens of fans commented on the apparent connection.

Miss USA has previously courted controversy over the treatment of contestants. The year before Ms Voigt was crowned, the pageant faced allegations of rigging the 2022 contest in favour of winner B’Roney Gabriel, who had ties to sponsors – including one owned by the then-president Crystle Stewart.

Ms Stewart was suspended from her role, though she, Miss USA and Ms Gabriel denied the rigging claims. It was later revealed that Ms Stewart’s husband, Max Sebrechts, a Miss USA vice-president, resigned his role after multiple contestants alleged he had sexually harassed them in 2021.

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