Nursing Home Beauty Pageants: Awesome Or Troubling?

Illustration for article titled Nursing Home Beauty Pageants: Awesome Or Troubling?

The Ms. Missouri Nursing Home Pageant gives seniors a chance to tell stories, answer questions about their lives, and discover public speaking skills they didn't know it. But does it have to be called a "beauty pageant?"


An AP article makes almost everything about Ms. Missouri Nursing Home sound pretty awesome. Nursing homes across Missouri ask residents "questions about their lives, participation in nursing home activities and attitudes toward life." Then they send selected winners on to district pageants and finally the state competition. At one district pageant, women told stories of hearing Martin Luther King speak and going to school in a one-room schoolhouse. The winner, 89-year-old Marietta Kirkpatrick talked about her husband, her favorite soap opera, and her 2003 Mustang. She later commented that she never would have considered pageants when she was younger. "When I was in school, I was a very quiet, introverted person," she said. "And I've changed."

The Ms. Missouri Nursing Home Pageant, and its counterparts in other states, sounds like a great way for women who are sometimes invisible to society to be visible again. They clearly have a lot of fun, and Kirkpatrick's comment that she's become more outgoing in her later years is especially inspiring. But do events that are really about storytelling need to be called "beauty pageants," thus linking them to competitions that are not always so good for women?

Ms. Missouri Nursing Home doesn't involve an evening gown competition, though some contestants do like to dress up. Participants in the Ms. Alabama Nursing Home pageant appear to spend time on hair and makeup, and the ones in this photo sport tiaras. An (old) Ms. Georgia Nursing Home page says, "With a lifetime of achievements all our contestants possess a wealth of 'beauty.'" Why not just focus on these achievements, though, without relating them to beauty?

We recognize that many nursing home residents enjoy dressing up and feeling attractive, especially when outside forces are saying older women can't be beautiful. And maybe nursing home competitions represent what pageant supporters always say are the good things about such events — building self-esteem and communication skills. Still, it's a little disturbing that pageants — which, for all their benefits, often focus on one fixed ideal of femininity and beauty — have extended their reach not only to the very young, but to the very old as well.

Beauty Queens Vie for Nursing Home Crown [AP, via CBS]



OK, so what if they get picked by the death panels before they get picked by the pageant officials? AWKWARD.