Apr 30, 2015

Pageant Demeans City, Heritage

Letter to the Editor

Oxford, Mississippi
image via Ken Lund on Flickr (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Dear Editor:

I feel compelled, driven, tormented, and inflamed to write this letter. Although I am loath to bring any more attention to the blight that has been visited upon our lovely city, I cannot remain quiet and acquiesce while a plague of dim-witted, shrill-voiced, and teased-hair harpies sully the good name of Oxford.

Of course, I am referring to the Yoknapatawpha County Literary Festival Beauty Pageant.

Many here in our town are opposed to this parade of women, much like the procession of cattle into the stockyard ring where they are turned and prodded and primped, for reasons of gender equality and sexual discrimination.

Although I share their opinions that "beauty pageants" are demeaning carnivals of skin and legs, I do not wish to cast my lot with the feminists from campus because, unlike them, I must accept the fact that the girls who compete in these pageants are not unwilling participants in their humiliation. Guns are not placed at their heads. Drugs are not slipped in their drinks. They willingly go forward into the spotlight with layers of make-up so much like our own southern red clay of their own free will.

So I will not debate whether this pageant degrades its contestants.

However, I will stand up and fight and scream and claw and punch and screech and bellow that this so-called beauty pageant demeans and degrades Oxford and its wonderful literary heritage!

To hell with the young girls who want to be Temple Drake and their desires for beauty queen status. Corncobs and bootleggers await them and they will be indemnified for their poor choices in life. But spare the rest of us of this charade. Spare this wonderful postage stamp of soil from this silly tragic comedy.

William Faulkner wrote literature that stands up to the ages. He changed the world and the perception of so many in it. His legacy is the greatest novels ever written in the English language. Joyce and Melville critics may disagree with me on that point, but I am prepared to debate Faulkner's merits with anyone.

This base and cheap exhibition does not pay proper honor to Faulkner or any of his Oxford literary descendants. Instead of raising awareness and educating people around the world about the value of Oxford literature, we are drawing attention for a silly and trivial spectacle. In this sense, we are, to paraphrase Faulkner, working not of the heart but of the glands. Surely the tremendous artists of Oxford deserve better.

I am aware that my opinions will be viewed by many as cold-hearted and old-fashioned. I will be told that I am not hip, that I am not current, and that I am not in step with today's attitudes. I will not dispute those charges. Rather, I will freely accept them. On this subject, I will gladly be Rosa and hate with all the venom and bile she summoned forth.

We do not need to be fashionable to make a difference in this world.

Let me remind everyone that, although Mr. Faulkner was driven by dire financial need to work in the world of Hollywood, he never felt at home there, he never fit in there, he never succeeded there. It was here in Oxford, at his beloved Rowan Oak, where he wrote books that were not bestsellers, were not movies, and were not hip. Instead, they were simply timeless.

Let us all stand together and tell the organizers of this beauty pageant that we deserve more than just cheap commercialism and free skin shows. I, for one, will not stand for this embarrassment of our town!

Lucille Ruffin-Moore
Oxford
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Apr 29, 2015

Pageant sponsors cruelty to animals

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

While I don't have the money to buy advertising space in your newspaper or sponsor frivolous beauty pageants, I can sleep with a clean conscience. Can Allie Lamar? Can the city of Oxford?

This new beauty pageant is being sponsored by a company that practices cruelty to animals in testing labs on a daily basis. What does that say about our community? Do the good citizens of Yoknapatawpha County want to be known for our rich literary traditions or our support of animal abuse?

The animals being tortured in the name of product safety cannot speak for themselves, and that is why I am writing you this letter.

Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requires cosmetic companies to test either their ingredients or their finished products on animals, and yet millions of animals are still lost to these tests every single year, according to the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAS). Who knows how many of those animals are killed here in Oxford?

Does Avon Products, Inc. conduct animal tests? No. Does Estee Lauder? No. Does Mary Kay Cosmetics? No. Does Revlon, Inc.? No. Does Lamar Cosmetics? Yes!

Studies have shown that animal testing protects companies, not consumers. Not one person who has ever purchased cosmetics manufactured by Lamar Cosmetics has benefited from the inhumane tests conducted by that company under the guise of public safety.

Are there alternatives to animal testing? Yes.

For starters, Lamar Cosmetics could easily scrap their "need" for animal testing by simply taking advantage of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), a program supported by the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA). Beyond that, Lamar Cosmetics could use any of several cruelty-free testing procedures suggested by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Lamar Cosmetics does not need to test their products on animals, and we should not promote Lamar Cosmetics until they accept that truth and change their practices.

On behalf of all innocent animals, I call upon on my fellow caring citizens to boycott the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival Pageant and stop buying Lamar Cosmetics while the company continues to promise beauty but deliver pain.

If Lamar cannot hear the voices of animals in pain, then perhaps the company needs to feel pain until they change their ways.

Wendy Kullman
Oxford
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Apr 28, 2015

Local company hopes to revive business with pageant

Talk to any marketing professional and they will point out the innumerable ways to increase the visibility of a company. Advertising, product placements, endorsements, direct mail campaigns and dozens of other strategies are employed every day to improve profits.

And while companies have been putting their names on sporting events for years, an Oxford business has recently come up with a new twist. Lamar Cosmetics is sponsoring the Yoknapatawpha County Literal Festival Beauty Pageant this week in hopes of reviving declining sales.

"We thought a beauty pageant was a natural tie-in to the festival," says company owner Alexandra "Allie" Lamar. "We are a cosmetics company that makes products that help women obtain their dreams in life — looking their best, living in confidence, and enjoying their full potential. And a beauty pageant reinforces those same ideas.

"Pageant contestants are obviously very beautiful, but they must also possess tremendous amounts of confidence, desire, and determination to reach their goals. It was an easy decision."

Although it may have been an easy decision to make from a marketing perspective, the decision is still a monumental moment in the company's history. Founded in Oxford in the 1980's by Daniel Lamar, Lamar Cosmetics began producing cosmetics made of natural ingredients and selling them in local gift shops.

The company grew quickly and its line was soon offered for sale in department stores such as Dillard's and McRae's in Tupelo, Jackson, and Memphis. Lamar's staff grew to about 25 professional employees and a line staff of 75. When Daniel Lamar died in 1990, his wife, Allie, assumed full control of the corporation.

Recently, the cosmetics company has suffered through some financially difficult times. Lamar is a privately held company so concrete financial data is hard to obtain, but local observers say it's clear the company is in dire financial straits.

"They've laid almost everyone off," says Bud Jacobson, member of the Oxford Rotary Club. "Nearly everyone in the office is gone, and the line staff of folks who work in the factory is down to a couple dozen. I wish them the best because Allie is a great boon to Oxford business, but they've got to be hurting."

Dillard's spokesperson Hal Rice said "We decided to discontinue our association with Lamar Cosmetics. They were a great line for us, and they were a solid company. However, we decided we needed to dedicate more shelf space to better-selling lines."

Lamar Cosmetics has also been under increasing criticism from animal rights organizations for the use of animals in the product testing process.

Some have suggested that the growth of companies such as Burt's Bees has substantially cut into Lamar's business.

"There are so many other companies out there making natural products now," says industry observer Burt Yount. "Lamar used to enjoy a nice niche in a small market. That market is now quite large and full of competition. They just can't keep up."

Lamar Cosmetics also has a perfume division office in Paris, France. That office, which is reputed to be very profitable, is headed by Bill Lamar, only child of Allie and the late Daniel Lamar.

Yoknapatawpha County Literary Festival organizers declined to comment on how much money Lamar paid to stage the beauty pageant or how much was paid for the endorsement. But the pageant has certainly been the subject of much conversation around town.

"I think it's ridiculous. Beauty pageants are archaic and demeaning," said retired University of Mississippi professor Lucille Ruffin-Moore. "This is an insult to the community and to the memory and legacy of great authors from this community."

But for every critic, there seems to be a fan. Barry Johnson, an Ole Miss student from Jackson, said, "Oxford is known for two things: books and beautiful girls. That may not be politically correct, but that's the truth. There's nothing wrong with admitting to that and making something people can enjoy."
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Apr 27, 2015

Beauty pageant biz is alive and well

And in Yoknapatawpha County

By Courtney Woodford [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Yoknapatawpha County Literary Festival Pageant, happening this week, reminds us that the beauty pageant business is alive, well, and thriving.

Fostered by the Miss America Organization, the beauty pageant as an institution and as an event has come a long way since their first pageant in 1921 was held in Atlantic City.

Originally established as a way to entice people to extend their Labor Day stay in the beach-side city, the Miss America organization now offers $42 million in scholarships, the single largest scholarship organization for women in the world.

The organization franchises 1,200 contests nationwide at local and state levels with over 10,000 young women competing in pageants they hope will win them a crown and transform their lives. Some enter just to appear on TV. Others dream of being discovered by modeling agencies, Broadway shows, TV or movies. And many really do hope for a scholarship to further their education.

The Miss America pageant — whose eligibility rules specify that only single women between 17 and 24 years old who have never been a parent or posed in the nude may enter — may be the largest, but it is by no means the only beauty pageant looking for share of the multi-billion dollar business.

Since Catalina Swimwear began their own Miss USA and Miss Universe competitions in 1951, there has been a proliferation of other pageants looking for a slice of the lucrative pageant pie. Pageants for women and girls of all ages — from birth to near-death — are held worldwide every year.

These pageants may vary in their qualifications for entry, but most have one thing in common — they're operated by a for-profit organization that solicits primarily girls and young women to compete for recognition and prizes from a promoter. The key words here are "for-profit."

The entrant usually pays a registration fee and a sponsorship fee — and a business sponsor, friends, or family members may pay those fees in full or in part. Fees generally cover the cost of the pageant, including salaries for company personnel and company profits.

The contestant must pay for their own clothing, costumes, makeup, travel, food, and sometimes lodging for themselves and a chaperone. Often a talent competition costs extra.

One of the Baby Beauty contests charges $1,000 just to enter. Even the little children's clothes and costumes may cost thousands of dollars, in addition to the usual pageant expenses. We all remember the videos of JonBenĂ©t Ramsey prancing and posing in her expensive costumes — and looking much too grown up for a six-year-old.

There are contests for babies, children, pre-teens, junior-teens, teens, Miss, Mrs., Miss Plump, Ms. Over 50 — you name it.

One year, an organization held their entire pageant on a cruise of the Western Caribbean with contests for pre-teen, teen, Miss, Ms., and Mrs. "complete with crowns and sashes." Of course, "the entire family" was invited — at the family's own expense. Who do you suppose profited from that one?

The name of the game is competition and winning — competition between contestants, competition between sponsors, competition to coach a winner.

Competition, winning — and money.

Every one wants to be a winner, sponsor a winner, coach a winner. There is no fame or profit in being or backing a runner-up. Who remembers the runners-up? It's winning that counts and pays off.

Is it any wonder that a contestant might make eleven tries over seven years of eligibility in two states as Miss America 1981, Debbye Turner, did? Isn't it a wonder, with all that's at stake, that anyone wins Miss Congeniality?

How can the two runners-up smile and look excited when someone else is announced as the winner? They must feel like looking — or throwing — daggers at the winner after all the months or years they prepared and the thousands of dollars they invested in themselves.

Oh well, if you're 17 and graduated high school by June 30 or aren't older than 24, there's always next year.
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