Miss Mississippi has long history of big hair, bigger personalities

Big hair, bigger personalities

lwalck@sunherald.comJuly 9, 2014 

From bouffants and blowouts to feathered bangs and bouncy curls, the faces of past pageant winners offer a glimpse into the history of Mississippians themselves.

The most significant of these faces is Moss Point native Toni Seawright, the first black Miss Mississippi. Her 1987 win came just a few years after Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America, and just after the state saw its first black Supreme Court justice and federal judge.

Four Miss Mississippis have gone on to win Miss America: Mary Ann Mobley in 1958, Linda Lee Meade in 1959, Cheryl Prewitt in 1979 and Susan Akin in 1985.

Akin's win capped off a winning streak that made Mississippi legendary in the swimsuit category. The state captured seven wins in eight years starting in 1978, with one off year when the contestant won the talent category.

A 1986 Sun Herald story credited Vicksburg vascular surgeon Briggs Hopson for the wins. Each contestant stayed at Hopson's home to undergo a kind of body boot camp that involved strict dieting and shaping of "problem" areas.

Prewitt recalled 5:30 a.m. workouts and a pair of plastic pants meant to reduce cellulite that had a vacuum attachment to blow in heated air.

"Nobody builds a body like Briggs," said Nora Chapman, then executive director of the Alabama state pageant.

A South Mississippian, Miss Pearl River County Donna Pope, won the state title and national swimsuit award in 1980. The streak ended in 1986.

In 1973 and '74, Gulfport natives won back-to-back state titles. Another 1986 Sun Herald story detailed the two women's very divergent paths after wearing the crown. Diane Bounds, 1974's winner, was hooked on the spotlight and returned to pageant life year after year as mistress of ceremonies for the state and Coast events, often giving vocal performances.

Kathleen Coole, 1973's winner, said by the time she was in Miss America rehearsals she had already become disillusioned with pageants.

"I felt like they were looking at me like I was just a piece of meat," she said, and went on to get an MBA and work in marketing.

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