Call the culture police: We have a stereotype in progress.
According to the October issue of Allure, a New York beauty magazine, Southern women are like so many clones of the beauty-queen bitch Delta Burke used to play on TV -- self-centered bubbleheads who spend hours primping at the vanity and care only about keeping up appearances.
"Girls in the South love to be looked at," Allure points out, adding that they're quite different from "Nawthun wimmin." And, yes, the magazine printed that helpful pronunciation guide.
Among other revelations:
* Southern women like to join garden clubs. "Blooms of a certain type meet blossoms of the exact same type."
* Southern women ooze phony politeness and find Northern women jarring. "They're much more direct and honest than we are here. To the point of hurting your feelings," says Liz Farnsworth of Memphis.
* Southern women just love beauty contests. "Life is sort of a beauty contest, let's face it," says Lynda Mead Shea, Miss America 1960.
Allure, circulation 400,000, is one of those high-gloss magazines where it's hard to tell the articles from the lipstick come-ons. Editor-in-Chief Linda Wells, a Missourian, assigned the Southern woman piece to Judy Bachrach, a former writer for the Washington Post Style section, as part of a series on beauty in different locales. Other installments have examined women in New York, Brazil and Tokyo.
So far, the magazine has received little negative reaction, says spokeswoman Stacy Kaplan. "Everyone seems to realize it was tongue-in-cheek."
Everyone, perhaps, except the Chi Omega sorority at the University of Mississippi, which has fired off a protest letter.
The article heaps special scorn on Ole Miss, whose coeds Mississippi-born writer Willie Morris once called goldfish. (They're golden, they love to be looked at, and "if you touch 'em, they'll waggle their little tails and swim away.")
The Ole Miss chapter of Chi O has produced two Miss Americas and is, Allure says, the essence of Southern womanhood. In the article, sorority sisters are reported to spend three hours doing their hair and makeup and to stay in on "ugly days" -- those terrible mornings when they wake up face-down in the pillow and discover weird bags and wrinkles.
"Everyone's pretty mad around here," says Cecy Mitchell, an Ole Miss senior and Chi O member from Clarksville, Tenn. "Maybe people spent hours on their hair 20 or 30 years ago. But I get up in the morning and have 20 minutes to make class. I don't have time for that."
But the part of the article that most upset her sisters, Ms. %J Mitchell says, was a remark a student made about a competing sorority. An indiscreet Chi O cracked that A O Pi's wear too much makeup and carry vinyl purses.