Dr. Jane Goldberg, a psychoanalyst who owns La Casa Day Spa, describes herself as an aging hippie who, up until last June, had not worn high heels for 45 years. Last summer, that all changed when she entered the Ms. New Jersey Senior America Pageant for women ages 60 and over. Dr. Goldberg learned how to do the pageant walk, wore fake eyelashes, got hair extensions, and wore a sequined gown in front of five volunteer judges who said they were looking for “dignity,” “maturity,” and the ever-elusive “inner beauty.” At age 68, she has not had any Botox or plastic surgery done—but she eats organic, goes to hot yoga every day, and runs when the weather permits.
Unlike the traditional beauty pageant, however, the contestants of Ms. New Jersey Senior America come in all shapes and sizes. Diane DeSalvo Beebe, the 2014 winner, may not have a supermodel’s impossibly trim and taut body, but she is photogenic, charismatic, and a talented signer. They also have a range of reasons for competing. At the 2014 pageant, Dr. Goldberg remembers a woman who was dying of pancreatic cancer who had competed in the pageant many times but wanted to be a part of it once more, even though she wasn’t at her best. Dr. Goldberg’s 78-year-old best friend, Geraldine, competed in the pageant because she wanted to do something new and different after her husband’s death.
In her piece for The Huffington Post, Dr. Goldberg wrote, “For me, the meaning of the experience was about spending hours and hours with my fellow contestants, learning a dance, supporting each other when any of us forgot which way to turn and messed up the whole routine.” She noted that the contestants are “women who are fighting every day in every way against their aging bodies. Both in terms of beauty and also just getting around with weak knees and decades long backaches, and even the specter of encroaching death.” With 80-year-old Joan Didion as the new face of Céline and 71-year-old Joni Mitchell in a new Saint Laurent campaign, older women, who have a lifetime of accomplishments etched on their faces, are finally being celebrated in the media. The Senior America Pageant, however, has been celebrating older women—and their continued contribution to the community for almost 20 years. As Dr. Goldberg explains, “I competed to show my 21-year-old daughter, Molly, that her aging hippie mom can still do something new, and that you can embrace an activity contrary to who you are at any age. ”
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