Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s Next Top Models? Older Women

Women over 40 are storming the catwalks — and discovering a new source of self-esteem.

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Puerto Rico’s Next Top Models? Older Women

Yasmín Porrata Morán, GPJ Puerto Rico

Teacher Rosa Mercedes Rivera watches Glausmires Reyes, center, walk in runway class with her son, Omar Yahir Méndez Reyes, 10, at D Models by Divas, a modeling agency.

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UTUADO, PUERTO RICO — When Glausmires Reyes, 43, lines up to walk the runway, she feels powerful, like she rules her own life. To her, modeling is constantly remembering that she can face any adversity. But five years ago, when she entered the world of modeling, her story was different. After having a miscarriage, she was diagnosed with cancer, which she had to treat with chemotherapy. The side effects included fatigue, nausea and the loss of her hair. In addition, she says, her partner at the time was using psychological violence against her.

“I was a woman abused psychologically and emotionally through domestic violence,” Reyes says. “I felt devalued, inferior, like a failure, because that’s what they got me to believe.”

After separating, she decided to rebuild her life. So when a friend invited her to audition for a fashion show, she accepted. At the event, Reyes captured the attention of Puerto Rican designer Rosa Mercedes Rivera, who invited her to train professionally at her modeling school and agency, D Models by Divas, which specializes in models of diverse sizes and ages.

Yasmín Porrata Morán, GPJ Puerto Rico

Glausmires Reyes prepares for the runway with her modeling teacher, Rosa Mercedes Rivera, at D Models by Divas, a modeling agency.

Reyes joined the ranks of the over 2,000 models around the age of 40 who have taken their places on the catwalks of Puerto Rico since 2020, say industry leaders. The activity has allowed her to perform at a variety of events, but more than anything, it has changed her relationship with herself and her environment, the result of classes focused on self-esteem.

“Today, I feel confident in the woman I am. I know my worth, what I deserve and what I can give,” Reyes says. “This opportunity has changed my life for the better.”

Redefining aging

Reyes and her compatriots who entered modeling in adulthood must navigate an industry traditionally dominated by younger people, which requires them to leave their comfort zone to stand out in a growing segment of the market, Rivera says.

“In recent years, people have been redefining the concept of aging,” says clinical psychologist Erica Rexach. “Before, it was seen in a negative light, as the stage closest to death, the time when there is nothing left to do, the most solitary and inactive life cycle.”

Data from the 2020 census shows that Puerto Rico’s median age is 45 years, eight years older than the median in 2010. Furthermore, the Gerontological Society of America has warned that the population is set to age rapidly due to falling fertility levels and increased migration.

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Yasmín Porrata Morán, GPJ Puerto Rico

In addition to runway lessons, models can take refinement classes, such as posture correcting, to help them increase their self-esteem.

Rexach says this demographic transformation has encouraged media outlets, the fashion industry and society to push to the fore new narratives about people over 40.

“It is starting to be seen as a second youth, the time when a woman uses her maturity, her knowledge, to live more fully and establish healthier social connections,” she says.

In line with this trend is last week’s crowning of Jennifer Colón Alvarado, 36, as Miss Universe Puerto Rico 2024. In September 2023, the pageant expanded the age limit for contestants, previously limited to 28 years old. The new beauty queen will participate in the Miss Universe competition, to be held in Mexico in November.

Colón was the first runner-up in the 2009 Miss Universe Puerto Rico pageant. She has since dedicated her life to raising her children and to her career as a medical esthetician.

Rivera, a pioneer in the push to include non-traditional models, thinks allowing older adults the opportunity to be seen in runways helps others feel represented. “As a designer, I prefer to choose a mature woman for my creations because, when they walk the runway, that audience can see themselves in her skin.”

“They need to love themselves more”

Many models come to the profession with insecurities and effects from mistreatment, Rivera says. To train them and propel , , their work, some schools offer classes not only in modeling but also in refinement, teaching subjects ranging from makeup techniques to etiquette, projection and self-esteem.

“That’s where they realize that a lot of what is going on with them is because they need to love themselves more, believe in themselves,” says Aida Cabrera, president of AC Model Fashion, a modeling agency in Utuado. Cabrera also works with 12 models over the age of 40 at the Lady and Gentleman Top Model agency, in San Juan.

She says that the classes at her agency feature an initial activity in which models are paired to respond to a self-discovery questionnaire. They identify aspects that make them feel uncomfortable with themselves and how others see them.

From there, they work out plans to develop their drive both on and off the catwalk.

“What is the point of learning how to model if their self-esteem is low, if they don’t have the tools to confront what they don’t like about their bodies or to work with deeper pain that makes them feel like they have no use being here?” Cabrera says.

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Yasmín Porrata Morán, GPJ Puerto Rico

Self-esteem classes have had a positive impact on Glausmires Reyes, who has modeled for five years.

The result of the classes is that many models have gained the tools they need to embrace their beauty.

Mirta Abad, 38, a plus-size model with AC Model Fashion, says she learned to consider her weight as something she needed to work on and not an aspect that defines her capacity as a model. And Alexandra Ruiz, an engineer and member of Curvy Models by María María, another modeling agency, says her professional trajectory now looks brighter since she began her career on the runway. She’s acquired the self-assurance to cultivate social relationships.

“They raised my self-confidence,” says Nancy Meléndez, 61, who took to the catwalk in 2023.

In Reyes’ case, the modeling and refinement classes became the dividing line between a before and an after. Once she participated in the workshops Rivera gave, she was motivated to seek out psychological help to completely escape violence and recover hope in her future.

“Thanks to the runway, I feel happy, confident again,” she says. “I’ve been reborn.”

Yasmín Porrata Morán is a Global Press Journal associate reporter based in Puerto Rico.


Shannon Kirby, GPJ, translated this story from Spanish.