Facing my 50th birthday, I decided I wanted a goal that was both fun and challenging going into my golden year. I wanted something that I would always remember. I found all three.
I entered the 2008 Mrs. Oregon International Pageant. A platform based program (mine happens to be alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment), this was an ideal opportunity to promote my lifelong commitment to reduce underage drinking and impaired driving. My advocacy moved into a different realm.
My "yeah, I’m fifty" goal was to win the fitness award (there was no swimsuit competition in this pageant). Competing with women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, I knew the odds were against me. What I didn’t realize was the confidence that comes with age and experience also resonates, tangibly.
The woman ahead of me was forty, fit, and had not given birth to children. The woman who came after me was, at a mere twenty-three year of age, younger than my youngest child.
The day of the competition I reminded myself of the goal. Going out on the stage in my sneakers and aerobic outfit, I realized I had already reached one milestone, I had the confidence to try something new. I set a goal that was both physically and mentally challenging for myself.
As the awards were being called, I knew I was not the most visually attractive woman in the pageant. I prepared myself for the inevitable, pleased that I had given it a good effort. Then they called my name.
The Fitness winner is…, Debra Gilmour. I was stunned. Mission accomplished, I wanted to grab my husband and go celebrate! Instead I waited patiently for the other awards and recognitions. Finally it was time to learn who won the title of Mrs. Oregon 2008.
One by one the runners-up were named; the twenty-three year old was named third runner-up, followed by second-runner-up, an MD who at forty-eight, I considered a shoe-in. The first runner-up was the woman in front of me who was forty and my pick for the winner. It was then I became a bit confused. Who else was left?
Evidently, it was me! When we heard my name called as the winner of the Mrs. Oregon pageant, my husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. I became the oldest woman to ever win the pageant.
Two months later I turned fifty-one.
As I listen to younger women talk in near loathing terms of the aging process and how much they are fighting it, I realize there are still so many stereotypes about age and attractiveness. If they only knew… It takes those added years to really cultivate an appreciation for the inner beauty that comes with age. You cannot buy it in a bottle, potion, or procedure. It is self determined through getting to know yourself on the inside.
I enjoyed my pageant experience. Having the distinction as the oldest Mrs. Oregon to ever win the title, I also realized I am in a unique position to elevate the discussion of what true attractiveness is at any stage of a woman’s life. Which is why I am now representing Oregon’s 50s (plus) women in the Beauties of America Pageant.
As I near my 52nd birthday, I am ready to face head-on the stereotypes that pigeon hole women to a sideline existence once they reach a certain age. In my world view, I am just entering the second half of my life. That means I have quite a long way still to go, and many goals yet to achieve!