Tuesday 16th December, 2008

 
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Is beauty a business or pleasure?

It seems embarrassing in a country that prides itself on its literacy to be talking about a competition that hinges so much on a body in a swimsuit. But even nattily-suited marketing professionals will concede the power of a strong presence in these widely viewed competitions.

A photo in yesterday’s Guardian offers some insight into the larger issue of beauty competitions in T&T. It’s a press release photo of five women from the competition. Four are holding trophies won in various aspects of the competition, but only two are also holding their national flags, Miss Venezuela, Hannely Zulami Qiuntero Ledezma and Miss T&T, Gabrielle Walcott, the second runner-up in the competition.

This kind of presence of mind and awareness of the mission in the midst of the hectic and glittering end-run of a beauty competition can only happen when careful planning and clear thinking triumph over adrenaline.

Congratulations are certainly due to Ms Walcott, who copped the “Beauty with a Purpose” title for her work with the Just Because Foundation and was a finalist in the “Best Dress” competition, wearing the work of local designer Bobby Ackbarali.

More kudos are due to Peter Elias and his team, who worked to prepare Ms Walcott for the competition in the face of that curious combination of national enthusiasm and official indifference that T&T has long offered to the local franchise owners of the Miss Universe and Miss World competitions.

In the face of this frustrating dichotomy, Mr Elias, the franchise holder for both competitions since the turn of the century, announced while congratulations were showered on him for this bronze triumph that he would be giving up the franchise.

“This is the end of the road for me,” he said.

Mr Elias had long signalled his annoyance with the uncertainty of support for the competitions, which occupy a curious place in the national consciousness. Winning queens have been enthusiastically supported and lauded by the government of the day, but everyone in-between those wins has reigned in a limbo of “Tobago love.”

Ms Walcott was about to board her flight to South Africa and Anya Ayoung-Chee was long returned from Vietnam when the Government finally gave a subvention to Mr Elias to support this year’s mission of these two young women to the world.

Beauty competitions have long been a ticklish subject for us. It seems embarrassing in a country that prides itself on its literacy to be talking about a competition that hinges so much on a body in a swimsuit. But even nattily-suited marketing professionals will concede the power of a strong presence in these widely viewed competitions.

Venezuela has long reconciled any ambivalence it might have had about the curious nature of beauty competitions, beginning with its first win in 1955.

Our neighbour country works at the outer edge of the competition’s rules under the hand of Osmel Sousa, who has run the Miss Venezuela competition for 27 years, most recently for Cisneros’ local Venevision television station.

Mr Sousa employs dental and plastic surgery specialists who have worked on many of the contestants in the local competitions and some of the many Miss Universe, Miss World and Miss International titles that the country has won.

Venezuela has won the Miss Universe and Miss World competitions simultaneously on two occasions, a feat only matched by India.

Venezuela’s success at beauty competitions was, until Mr Chavez’ drift into oil-funded socialism, that country’s claim to fame in most first world countries.

Venevision’s contract with its contestants claims a percentage of their winnings, but no business model beyond patronage exists for local efforts at driving a successful mining of T&T’s own assets.

The sole effort at hosting an international beauty competition in T&T is still to be proved a value proposition.

Until this country can find a way to reconcile its enthusiasm for celebrating beauty with tangible returns on the investments that are necessary for success in the business, local franchise holders will remain doomed to a cycle of accolade and abnegation in their efforts to build a business that many desire but nobody seems to want.

©2005-2006 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited