Age is just a number which is why older people are great. They’ll tell you about the war, they’ll deliver you an old Werther’s Original from their purse and they’ll listen to you practice the trumpet even though you are terrible and need a lot of practice. But old people are more than just storytellers, candy-givers and listeners. They’re people, and they like to have fun like everyone else. Yep, you can be over 60 and be a beauty queen too
Marilyn O’Leary, Miss Nevada
Photographer Everett Meissner captured this joie de vivre beautifully in his photo series taken at the Ms. Senior American pageant in Massachusetts. Meissner tells us, “With the energy in the air, it was easy to forget that the woman who just rushed down the hallway was in her 80’s.” And the women did not want him to forget they were 80, and could you blame them? Meissner remembers one woman leaning in to say, “doesn’t she look great? You know she’s 80?!”
Not only were they proud of their age, they were proud of their bodies. “I was shooting one of the older women there and when I was just about to start, she said, ‘oh wait’ and opened the slit of her dress to expose some leg,” Meissner tells us. “I felt that was her way of showing she still had it, which I felt was pretty badass.”
So yeah, these women wear bold lips, sequins, jewels and tiaras like it’s a bachelorette party every night of their lives. And the best part is, they don’t give a f!@# what you or anyone thinks. Sisters are doing it for themselves. Take a look at these glamorous women over 60
It’s known as the first of its kind. The Ms Senior America pageant was created in 1972 to challenge a culture that worshiped youth and dreaded wrinkles. The pageant would embrace the experience, wisdom, dynamism and beauty of the older woman – even if a few had been surgically assisted to escape the ravages of time.
Last October, 61-year-old dentist Kimberly Moore won the pageant with a lip-pouting, hip-wiggling mime of Tina Turner’s Proud Mary routine. Runner-up, Dr Maddy Paschal, sang country song I’d Choose You Again, with a poem she wrote for her husband inserted into the middle. Meanwhile, Marilyn O’Leary, 62 delivered a one-woman duet from La Traviata. Talent was only one of the categories they were judged on – there was also their philosophy of life, community service and poise.
L – Kimberly Moore R – Maddy Paschal
Grace is a word you hear time and again in relation to the pageant – in both the godly and the elegant sense. These women tend to be thankful for what they’ve got, rather than grieving for what they have lost.
Most have lost plenty, though. It’s that time of life. Many will swap stories about cancer and bereavement, disappointing men and mistakes made, but more than anything, they share a hunger for life.
Barbara Hill, 70, talks about how elderly women have changed in her lifetime. “We used to think our grandmas would sit in rocking chairs with shawls, and grandmas are not like that now. They’re very sexy and active, and that helps them stay healthy. I’m as healthy as a bear.”
Barbara Hill, 70
Paschal, 63, entered her first pageant, Junior Miss Transportation, at 12. When she won, her classmates called her Miss Dumbtruck and she vowed never to enter one again. She taught for 40 years, earned a doctorate, became dean of a college and, 51 years on, decided another pageant might be fun. This time it was.
She recites the poem she wrote about her second husband for Ms Senior America: “Just like the words of this old song/ Most of my life I’ve been getting it wrong/ And just when I thought my life was done/ I turn round and here you come.”
Paschal says the contest is very different from the traditional Miss America. “I never felt any of that thing the young women feel, because they’re competitively beautiful. I didn’t feel that was what this was about.” What was it about? “I think they wanted someone who was verbally responsive, who could stand on her feet when questions were being asked.”
Winner Kimberly Moore, yet another doctor (this time of dentistry), would never have thought of entering a pageant in the old days. “I used to think they were a form of exploitation,” she says. It’s amazing how many high-achieving women were in the finals, I say. One, two, three, four PhDs – she’s counting as we speak. “Yes, pageants have evolved, contestants are more educated and well-rounded.”
How has victory changed her life? “It’s the crowning glory. It has given me inspiration to do more things. I can’t stop now.” She hopes to go out to Haiti and Sierra Leone, to share her dental and dancing skills.
Photographer Sheri Manson captured the three-day pageant held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She was struck by the solidarity among the women. “It was a very jovial, positive atmosphere. They’d compliment each other on outfits or talents. There were never negative comments.”
But surely it wouldn’t be a pageant – even among sage, elderly high achievers – without a bit of backstabbing? O’Leary (top photo), who was one of Dean Martin’s original backing group the Golddiggers, admits she was disappointed to finish eighth after her bravura La Traviata duet. “Everybody was convinced I was going to win. But the woman who won was a dentist, and three of the top four had PhDs. I think the judges were looking at credentials I cannot keep up with.”
What did she think of the winner? “One of the most entertaining things I’ve ever seen,” she says generously. Then pauses. “We thought she was singing, but she wasn’t.” She pauses again. “You know, the general consensus when she was crowned was that she was fun to watch, but that’s not what you would call true talent. Anybody can pull on a costume and anybody can mimic.” And one final pause. “But no one had any hard feelings.”
Some of the beautiful ladies of the pageant
L – Maddy Paschal, 62, Ms Arizona R – Lanese Craft, 73, Ms Oklahoma
L – Jacquelyn Crawford, 72, Ms Missouri R – Barbara Travis, 62, Ms Louisiana
L – Pamela Wheeler, 63, Ms California
R – Marie Tennant, 69, Ms Pennsylvania
L – Sheryl Lee Wilson, 65, Ms Utah
R – Tula Serves, 86, Ms Ohio
Jeanette Rosenbaum, 68, Ms Florida
It’s too bad they don’t have a beauty pageant for the mature trans lady because for sure these two fabulous trans ladies would be part of it
L – Rita Doyle, 85 R – Gyllian Symthe, 73
Sources The Guardian, The Loop,