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The dreams of a 60-year-old beauty contestant come to an abrupt end in Argentina

Contestant Alejandra Rodriguez competes in the swimsuit category during the final of the Argentina Miss Universe pageant, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Saturday, May 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello) Contestant Alejandra Rodriguez competes in the swimsuit category during the final of the Argentina Miss Universe pageant, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Saturday, May 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
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Buenos Aires, Argentina -

A 60-year-old woman saw her dreams of becoming the oldest Miss Universe contestant in history melt away in a haze of sequins and selfies Saturday at Argentina’s annual beauty pageant.

Alejandra Marisa Rodríguez, a hospital legal adviser whose entry into the competition had been cheered as a triumph over ageism in a youth-obsessed world, fell short of the Miss Argentina crown. But she did take home the title of “best face," one of several pageant categories including best evening gown, best swimsuit and most elegant.

During the contest she thanked everyone who celebrated her success in the Miss Buenos Aires competition last month. Her win there, after Miss Universe eliminated its long-standing age limit, generated a frenzy of global media attention that vaulted her from obscurity to local fame.

In an instant the soft-spoken lawyer from the city of La Plata, south of Buenos Aires, was doling out moisturizer tips to women striving to achieve her surreally smooth face and promising the public there was truth to the adage that age is just a number.

“As a result of what happened to me, I believe a new door has opened for many people who perhaps did not have it easy,” Rodríguez told The Associated Press backstage after the event, still dressed in her red cocktail dress with slits revealing her legs. “It was adventure and I had no expectations of this other than taking on a new challenge."

For the swimsuit portion of the Miss Argentina contest, Rodríguez chose a modest one-piece suit with a shawl draped over her shoulders, giving the crowd a shimmy as fans whooped and blew air horns.

But the judges preferred Magali Benejam, a 29-year-old actress and model from Cordoba who donned a skimpy blue bikini and sky-high stilettos to win “best swimsuit” and ultimately beat out the 27 other contestants to be crowned Miss Argentina.

“I’m so excited and so grateful to be here because the competition was not easy,” Benejam told AP. She will represent Argentina in Mexico City for the global competition in November.

Even Benejam's victory would have been impossible a year ago, as the pageant had long capped the age of contestants at 28. This year, for the first time in its 73-year-history, the Miss Universe contest is welcoming any participant over age 18.

It's just the latest in a series of changes for a contest that has been a lightning rod for feminist criticism since “bra-burning” protests upended the 1968 Miss America contest.

For decades, the Miss Universe pageant openly described itself as an extravaganza of unmarried women in their late teens and twenties strutting around for judges to rate their looks and personalities. As more and more people found that troubling, organizers realized how far the contest trailed behind the culture.

Over recent years, as #MeToo and social justice movements swept the globe, Miss Universe raced to persuade skeptics it was more about minds and spirits than bodies.

It stripped away many controversial eligibility requirements, opening the field for married, pregnant, lesbian and transgender women, and it nixed all mentions of "beauty" from its website.

Yet, as the contest stressed empathy, confidence and authenticity as feminine ideals, the mentions of “young woman” remained in place, and with it, the ban on crow’s-feet.

While many women praised Rodriguez’s decision to compete at age 60, others questioned whether she was setting an unreasonable standard for older women. Her award-winning face, statuesque figure and sculptured features made her blend in with the younger cohort onstage.

“It’s contributing to a sense that everyone should be able to look like this, all 60-year-old women should have the appearance of youth and freshness, as if they were 25,” said Lala Pasquinelli, an Argentine feminist activist. “If they don’t, it’s because they aren’t willing to make the sacrifices.”

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