Charmaine Szostek is heading to Biloxi, Mississippi this November to represent the Texas Gulf Coast in a brand-new beauty pageant. At 67 years old, the Magnolia resident is excited to be part of the pageant system's inaugural year.
The Ms. Senior World Pageant is not the first pageant system for women above 50, but it is a bit different, said founder Sherry Strother. For example, contestants will not be judged for performing a talent.
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"We will have no performing talent because we believe that as women, we have a lifetime of talent to share. …Our women are all extremely talented. They have served on many boards, they have been in the community working, so we are a celebration of all that accomplishment," Strother said.
Strother began modeling at 14 years old and has been a national title holder. After about four decades in the beauty and fashion industry, Strother has decided to begin her own senior pageant system with the goal of empowering women.
"'Women supporting women' — that is our motto," Strother said. "We are more than a crown; we are a movement. We have so much to give as senior women because we have raised our families, some raising their grandchildren. We have faced many obstacles. Yes, we are still ambitious."
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Strother was concerned about garnering participation and attention for a new pageant making its debut during a pandemic. Nonetheless, the event has support from local officials and attracted more than a dozen contestants representing several states.
Szostek and the other Ms. Senior World Pageant participants are scheduled to arrive in Biloxi on Nov. 6. Three days of rehearsals and events will lead up to their Nov. 9 pre-pageant interviews with judges and the preliminary competition at the Biloxi Civic Center.
The pageant will open with a dance number to Shania Twain's "Man! I feel like a woman!" followed by three competition categories — active wear, runway fashion and evening gown.
Finalists will be announced the following night, Nov. 10, during the pageant finals. The remaining contestants will once again compete in the three categories. They will then answer a final question before judges crown the Ms. Senior World winners for the 50-59, 60-69, and 70-79 age groups.
In addition to the three Ms. Senior World queens, they will also award a Ms. Senior World Leadership title.
"This is a woman who we select that has done great things in her life — has overcome certain obstacles in her life; that has prevailed and gone on to be a successful woman," Strother said.
Women don't have to be a size zero to participate in the Ms. Senior World Pageant, Strother said, they just need to be fit to compete and have the desire to take on the role of Ms. Senior World should they win. Upon returning to their home states, reigning queens will be making appearances, serving as a role model for women and promoting next year's event.
The plan for future years is to grow the Ms. Senior World pageant system to include state-level preliminary rounds that feed into the national-level pageant. Eventually, Strother intends to include delegates from other countries as well.
In lieu of state-level preliminaries this year, women were able to apply for their titles as delegates of their areas. Szostek, a Houston-area native, was named Ms. Texas Gulf Coast Senior World.
Szostek had experience and success in the world of pageants even before she was introduced to senior pageants, she said, including the Mrs. Texas competition.
"I participated and was a top 10 in Mrs. Texas in 1980, and then after that I just kind of went on and did my life," Szostek said. "By a series of events I found out about Ms. Senior America — a different pageant than the one I'm in now — so I entered the Ms. Texas Senior America pageant and I was like, 'This is amazing,' because I met these vibrant women, senior women that had done so much in their lives and were continuing to do."
Now, Szostek will be among the very first participants in Ms. Senior World, working to be a role model for women of all ages.
"This is a way for us as participants to represent our age group, to show other senior women that you can step out of your comfort zone; that you can really get out there and make a difference, not only for your fellow seniors, but also for the younger women coming up because they look at us and they think, 'You're over at 50,' and it's really not," Szostek said. "We are very accomplished women. We have a lifetime of experiences, all of them blessings, whether they're negative or positive. And we need to share that."
For Szostek, winning a Ms. Senior World crown would be an opportunity to pursue her idea of creating a nonprofit focused on building awareness around child abuse and comforting children who have been abused.
The concept was born out of the alarm she felt for children stuck at home in abusive situations during the pandemic.
"As a survivor of child abuse, when the pandemic started and the lockdown happened, the most immediate thought that I had come through my head was, 'Oh my goodness, those children are trapped in houses with their abuser,'" Szostek said. "I can't even imagine what would've happened to me and my sister had the pandemic happened back then when we were children."
Szostek said that as a small child, her abuser would destroy possessions in fits of rage, including toys. Her grandmother hand-sewed a small stuffed bear for Szostek, telling her to hide it and only take it out at night to talk to and cuddle for comfort.
The memory sparked the idea for "Joshua Bears."
"I know there are organization where people donate little furry bears and they give them to children going into foster care — what can I do to make this different?" Szostek said. "So, I am compiling a group of sewing groups — these will be women or men who can sew — who will volunteer their time to make these bears. …Every single bear will be different. It will be made out of a completely different piece of cloth. They will all be stuffed with hypoallergenic 100 percent cotton and then we will use yarn to sew on the eyes, the nose, the mouth, so there will be no objects that could be a choking hazard."
Szostek decided she'd call the bears "Joshua Bears" after her grandfather who she said embodied strength and protection.
Her goal is to kick off the nonprofit in January 2021, starting off by providing bears to children in need locally, such as those who may be in a shelter after escaping an abusive situation. Eventually, she hopes to expand the nonprofits reach to the state, national, and even international level. She feels that becoming the reigning Ms. Senior World 60's may provide a platform by which she could accomplish her goal.
But a lot goes in to getting ready for the big event, Szostek explained.
"Sometimes when women enter pageants, I think the public in general doesn't understand the preparation it takes to do this," Szostek said. "It's not, 'I think I'll enter this pageant,' and you show up one day and go through the motions. If you are serious about this and you look at it as a job — because it is a job — there is a lot of preparation involved."
In addition to community engagement and exercise, one aspect of her preparation has been to hire renowned pageant coach JJ Smith of WinnerViews.
"He is well known all over the country and especially Houston," Szostek said. "The man is so successful he has had winners in all the major pageants. He's very well loved and respected in the pageant community and he's taken me through this process."
As a pageant coach, Smith explained that for many years, traditional beauty pageants were limited to women in the 18 to 20s age group. But over time, he said, the pageant world expanded.
"That's when we saw this explosion of pageants really around the nation and world that embraced all different types of pageant contestants, and this of course included the senior ladies," he said. "As they evolved, the senior ladies actually showed that there were a lot of like-minded women out there who not just felt excluded from the world of pageants, but moreso had a lot to offer.
"I think that was the underlying foundation of why so many senior women get involved in pageants — to not only show what they've already accomplished in their life, but what they're still able to accomplish."
For more information about the Ms. Senior World Pageant, visit www.seniorworldpageants.com .
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