Every year since 1971, women aged 60 and older have been competing in the Ms. Senior America Beauty Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The pageant seeks to find "the gracious lady who best exemplifies the dignity, maturity and inner beauty of all senior Americans."
These lovely ladies don't compete in the swimsuit portion anymore, but they do show off their skills in other areas. They are judged based on their evening gowns, talents, personal philosophies and interview answers.
Ms. Senior America was founded by Dr. Al Mott, who started the competition over 30 years ago to motivate seniors "to lead active, productive lives, and provide the opportunity for them to use their wisdom and talents to enrich the lives of others."
The competition has brought new life into the world of beauty pageants. "They showed a great sense of camaraderie with each other. It felt like more of a celebration than a competition," said Everett Meissner, the competition's photographer.
The pageant seeks out the wisdom that comes with age, rather than the exterior beauty that younger pageants seem to focus on. One of the mission statements of the organization? "It is upon their knowledge, experience and resources that the younger generation has the opportunity to build a better society."
These women want to celebrate their age and Ms. Senior America gives them a platform to do that. Meissner added, "The way they embrace their age with pride instead of thinking of it in a negative way goes a long way."
Patti Kuhn (aka Peppermint Patti), a contestant, told Broadly about her venture into the pageant world: "When I was sixty my last child left for college. I was kind of floundering, not knowing what to do," she said. "I thought, 'Well, my children are all gone; I have nobody to embarrass but myself.'"
The pageant not only gives them a place to show off their talents, but it lets them transform into someone new. They're able to do this during a time where society tells them they should just be sweet, old grandmothers.
Another former contestant, Fran Owens, echoes that sentiment. "Being part of Senior America is greater than anything for women who don't want to wear their bathrobe and slippers and watch The Bold and the Beautiful," said Owens.
"I am sixty-one and construction workers don't whistle at me when I walk down the street any more," Ms. New Jersey told Broady. "It's a good thing, yes, but still it's a little knock to the ego when they stop. This is a little validation: I've still got it."
Whether you express yourself as a women through beauty pageants or designing space shuttles, the important thing is that you have the opportunity to do those things. Ms. Senior America gives that opportunity to a handful of talented, beautiful and golden women.