If you are a woman over age 60 who is looking for an unusual adventure, I have some very interesting news for you. Until recently, I was unaware of the growing number of senior beauty contests, which have become popular during the last few decades. Did you know that the first Miss Senior Universe pageant will be held in November? Or that for the past 30 years, the Ms. Senior USA pageant has been held in Las Vegas? Or that the Ms. Senior America pageant, which has been going strong since it started in 1971, was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, last October?
The Ms. Senior America pageant began as the Ms. Senior Citizen pageant and is run by Senior America Inc. Statewide competitions are held, and the winners then converge to compete for the national title each October. There is no swimsuit competition. Instead, contestants are judged on an evening gown segment, a private interview with the judges, a 35-second summary of their philosophy on life and their ability to show off their talents. The talent showcase can include such acts as baton twirling, playing a musical instrument, reciting poetry, singing, tap-dancing and even yodeling.
According to the corporation website, Ms. Senior America is the world's first pageant to honor women who are in the "Age of Elegance." The site says: "It is a search for the gracious lady who best exemplifies the dignity, maturity and inner beauty of all senior Americans. The Ms. Senior America philosophy is based upon the belief that seniors are the foundation of America, and our most valuable treasure. It is upon their knowledge, experience and resources that the younger generation has the opportunity to build a better society."
The more I looked into this unexpected world of beauty pageants for women over 60, the more surprised I was by the type of women who take part in these age-defying competitions. For example, one contestant is a retired medical technologist whose first job was working for Dr. Jack Kevorkian; another contestant has been tap-dancing since the age of 2; and another was the first woman to drive a forklift at Kennedy Airport. Last year's Ms. Missouri Senior America, 62-year-old Peggy Lee Brennan, lives in Branson, Missouri, but grew up in Staten Island, New York. In 1973, she was first runner-up in the Ms. Staten Island contest. She later became a professional entertainer and performed in "Grease" on Broadway with Patrick Swayze. When Brennan became the reigning Ms. Senior America, she told interviewers, "My philosophy is, it's never too late for anything."
The 2015 winner was Dr. Barbara B. Mauldin, a 62-year-old dentist and competitive ballroom dancer from Mississippi. When describing what competing in a beauty contest has done for many woman her age, she told The New York Times: "We were the women behind the men. For many candidates, this is a real step out of their comfort zones."
Herme Sherry, executive director of the Ms. Senior Arizona pageant, says that one unexpected benefit of participating in this type of competition is that the women often return home with a whole new group of girlfriends. For many contestants, like 70-year-old Trina Schelton from Mississippi, it's a chance to reboot their lives after years of caring for others. Schelton's daughters encouraged her to "rejoin life" after she had spent years caring for her ill husband.
Proceeds from the Ms. Senior Arizona ticket sales are turned over to a charity that supports survivors of domestic violence.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.