Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Courageous Beauty Interview: 2009 Beauties of America 50's-Debra Gilmour

Angie: As I was interviewing beauty queens, I asked for referrals for more interviews. Debra was referred as a lady of high standards and a powerful platform. Getting to know her through this interview, I believe you'll agree.

Angie: How did you learn about various pageants?

Debra: I first saw an ad in a magazine with Mrs. America's picture in it. That piqued my interest as I had not been aware of pageants for women aside from Miss America and Miss USA.

Angie: What titles have you held?

Debra: I have held both competitively won and at large titles.  My first title was won in 1988, where I was crowned Mrs. Oregon America.  In 1989 I was selected to represent Oregon at-large as Mrs. Oregon USA International in 1989.  In 2007 I held the at large title of Mrs. Scotland International (my husband and I own property in Scotland where his father was born).  In 2008 I competed for and won the title Mrs. Oregon International.  In 2009 I held the Beauties of America at large title of Oregon's 50s, then competed for and won the national title of 2009 Beauties of America's 50s.

Angie: What a distinguished list! What is your platform?

Debra: Though no platform was required at the time, as a cornea transplant recipient I promoted my personal philanthropic interest of organ and tissue donation during my 1988 and 1989 reigns. 

Over the years additional interests evolved and my platform portfolio from 2007 on also includes alcohol and drug addiction prevention, education and treatment, as well as cardiovascular disease education and research through the American Heart Association, youth support via the Police Activities League, and grief counseling and support through the Dougy Center for Grieving Families.

Angie: How did you build your platform and promote your work?

Debra: As a cornea recipient in 1988 I was asked to be a statewide spokesperson by the Oregon Donor Program.  After winning the Mrs. Oregon pageant, I used my title to give additional visibility to my existing commitments to speak out about organ and tissue donation.

Through the years other philanthropic needs emerged.  As a lobbyist I saw the daily struggle so many organizations go through to support and advance truly important causes.  As a family member I saw people very close to me suffer with addiction, and cardiovascular disease.  Dear friends of mine experienced the loss of their ten year old son from cancer.  

These things change you as a person.  You have two choices; let it consume you, or use that same energy to serve as an advocate for change.  I chose the latter.  

Angie: I agree. I support brain and organ donation and explain the difference between them. When my mother died as a paranoid schizophrenic, I wanted her struggle to have significance. That's why I'm also listed as a brain donor when the time comes. Why did you decide to compete?

Debra: Back in 1988 it looked like a lot of fun, and having grown up in the shadow of the Miss America pageant (I'm a native of New Jersey) it was the fulfillment of a dream.  My interest was reignited in 2007, motivated in large part by the perceptions of attractiveness I personally experienced as a woman who was turning 50.  

Angie: What keeps/kept you competing?

Debra: My desire is to serve as an example to other women who are entering mid-life that the best is yet to come.  We don't have to accept the notion that women over forty, and certainly over fifty, are relegated to a sideline existence in life.  Beauty doesn't have an expiration date.  My goal is to demonstrate that true beauty resonates from the inside to the outside.  As women age they become even more, not less, attractive!

Angie: At 45, I agree! Was/is competition scary?

Debra: Goodness, yes!  Certainly as a fifty plus-year old treading into what was historically a younger woman's domain. 

Angie: What personal fears did you have to overcome? 

Debra: As a younger woman competing in my thirties, I think my biggest fear was that of rejection.  With age comes a wealth of wisdom.  As a woman over fifty my biggest concern was if all my luggage would make to the the hotel on time:-)

Angie: LOL, I so understand! What did you have to learn to compete?

Debra: Early on it was the walking and posing portion of pageantry.  As a more seasoned woman it was recognizing the bias older women face, even among their younger peers and contestants.

Angie: Tell us about what you were able to do with  your titles:

Debra: In the early years as a titleholder I was able to substantially increase the number donor designations on Oregon drivers licenses for those wishing to become organ donors. I was also able to lend a face and name to pageantry for married women in my community.  Very few were aware there even was a Mrs. Oregon until a cover story in Portland's This Week Magazine featuring me as Mrs. Oregon 1988, shed light about the program.  

More currently, the ability to pass key legislation on both a Statehouse and Congressional level in the health care arena addressing addiction and cardiovascular disease, and raise substantial funds in the private sector to fund educational, research, and support services opportunities for my charities.

Angie: Please tell us about a dream, why it's been a goal, and what it means to you?

Debra: My greatest goal is to be the best mother I can to my children (and now grandchildren) and serve as a living example to them throughout my life. I believe we all have an obligation to provide a sturdy foundation for the next generation and leave the world a better place regardless of how big or small the contribution.  That includes accepting the gifts that God gives us, and speaking up when injustice is apparent.

Angie: What do you still want to achieve?

Debra: I would love to accelerate the paradigm shift for women to reach a place in which they appreciate themselves (and each other) to the degree that they no longer feel the need to cut up their bodies with elective, invasive surgical procedures and exterior changes to fit an unrealistic standard of attractiveness.

Angie: Ah, that's definitely important! Do you believe you can achieve it?

Debra: In my world view, I believe that anything is possible!

Angie: Why or why not?

Debra: Because it ultimately comes down to women rejecting the artificial standards set for us.  If we collectively recognize how arbitrary and unnecessary these standards are, we can give voice to reason and focus our attention on the things that really matter.

Angie: Lately, I've seen a lot on the internet challenging the air brushing away or enhancing of body parts. Ladies, don't believe what you see in magazines! What tips would you give other women wanting to enter the pageant world?

Debra: Remain true to yourself, your principles, and intentions.  

Angie: The media has given Americans the idea that pageant girls/women are not intelligent and accomplished. What kind of an education do you have? 

Debra: While I attended college, my current career trajectory as a registered lobbyist and business management executive is not in my original field.  Since so many women with pageantry backgrounds have gone on to highly visible careers in the media, it is somewhat perplexing why that image remains so steadfast.  

When This Week Magazine first covered the news that I was Mrs. Oregon 1988, the reporter made fun of the title and dismissed me as a blowdryer devotee with no substance. I called the reporter and challenged him (in a polite way, of course!) to sit down with me and get to know me, my treat.  

He was stunned I would do such a thing and accepted my challenge.  We met for tea and he soon forgot his preconceived idea of a pageant queen. A few weeks later I was the cover feature of the magazine which detailed my title, as well as my career position (at the time) as a placement director for a dental college.

In my opinion, if pageant queens would advance their resumes along with press releases and challenge in a polite, but firm, way dismissive coverage and remarks, we could certainly make a dent in the media's perception.

Angie: Do you have other creative talents you pursue?

Debra: Turning fifty opened my eyes to how much life there is still left to live (plenty!).  I recently began writing again, and was fortunate to have several articles published including two pieces featured on the website for MORE Magazine's  In late spring I received a request from the editor-in-chief of MORE to go to New York City for a beauty feature for the print version of the magazine.    This in turn opened other writing opportunities and a budding modeling career.

Angie: Congratulations! Is it important for a person to look their best?

Debra: Yes, because it really does impact and reflect the way we feel on the inside.  If you know you are pulled together well, you will radiate that confidence which will be noticed by others, too.  In many cases it can give you the edge you need in a business relationship, or competitive environment.

Angie: What do you hope you achieved with your titles long term?

Debra: My goal is to demonstrate through words and deeds women of all ages have an attractiveness that is uniquely their own.  My current title reflects the mission statement of the Beauties of America program which is, "beauty and accomplishment at every age."  I hope to advance that mission by supporting women in recognizing attractiveness at every stage of life. 

It is my hope that by the time my daughters are my age, the media's standard of a twenty year old's body with a fifty year old's wisdom and experience is all but a memory.

Angie: Will you compete again?

Debra: It is highly doubtful.  I have accomplished the goals I set for myself in the competitive world of pageantry.  I am ready to take the wonderful opportunities afforded me through this process and move on to other areas.

Angie: Would you share about your fashion favorites, flair, or a tip that makes you feel beautiful?

Debra: If I find something that works for me, I usually buy it in at least two colors.  Dresses, even casual ones, make me feel more feminine so if I am having a blah day, I will pull one on and it instantly gives me a boost.    

Angie: What compliment do you receive most often?

Debra: Most often I hear that I don't look my age, or people guess that I am considerably younger than my chronological age.    

Angie: What are you most confident about?

Debra: Regardless of what comes my way, if I am true to myself and my beliefs, I will succeed.     

Angie: How did you earn that sense of confidence?

Debra: Experience.  The wisdom I have at fifty-two permits me to be much more pragmatic and confident about most everything.  In my thirties (when I first won a title) I thought I was confident.  Reflecting back I can see I was predicating much of that confidence on my physical appearance.  If I looked good on the outside, that it equated to confidence.  Age teaches you confidence is all mental and has nothing at all to do with the physical.  

Angie: I bolded Debra's statement because I hope it is something that really stands out! What would you like to share?

Debra: As a member of the largest demographic in the country, mid-lifers (forty-five and up) are in the unique position to change the direction of what the accepted norm for attractiveness truly is.  There is a power that comes with numbers!

I hope many women, particularly those approaching my age embrace the opportunity and refuse to accept arbitrary standards for attractiveness. We can redefine true beauty for what it really is.  This means staying active and not using age as a reason for not shedding those extra pounds, cutting your hair only if you want to not because you reach a certain age, or foregoing putting on makeup because you think it doesn't matter.  

In our forties we have a tendency to want to fight nature.  At fifty, you reach an acceptance that is so empowering.  Let your true beauty show!

Angie: Oh, I'm middle-aged! [Read shocked here.] Lol, I never thought of myself as middle-aged at 45. Well then, Debra, I join your numbers and I refuse to cut my hair. I just don't look good in short styles so why should I? :-) Please share your websites, blogs, and any other places readers can connect or learn more about you and your work:
LinkedIn (in development stages but should be up soon)

Angie: I am just so pleased to have had the opportunity to visit with Debra and hope you have enjoyed it too.

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