Parade of Beauties looks below the surface

Posted on Feb 2 2017 - 5:31pm by Hannah Willis
Blair Wortsmith

Blair Wortsmith was crowned Most Beautiful Wednesday.

Last night, the Ford Center hosted the 66th annual Parade of Beauties. Sixty-three young collegiate women, sponsored by sororities, businesses or friends, were judged based on an interview and an evening gown portion with the winner being crowned “Most Beautiful.”

Though technically a competition, many of the contestants Wednesday night valued the friendships and experiences more than any crown.

 Senior chemistry major and four-time competitor Sarah Sutton credits pageantry for her confidence.

“It really is a vulnerable experience being up there and being judged on how you look,” Sutton said. “But your beauty comes from within you, and it’s something you have to bring out.”

Sutton’s first pageant was the Parade of Beauties her freshman year, but her pageant involvement has only grown from there.

“I had such a great experience [freshman year], and I learned so much more about myself that I kept doing and doing them.”

Even after graduation in May and with hopes of attending medical school, Sutton said she “doesn’t see [herself] stopping pageants anytime soon.”

Miss University 2016, senior print and broadcast journalism major Leah Gibson, entertained the audience throughout the evening. Gibson, much like Sutton, credits pageant competition with her own personal growth. Gibson began competing in pageants in middle and high school. She said her motivation came with the realization that the competition “was going to make me better, and I always wanted to become a better version of myself.” She added that “pageants have really helped me hone in on my skills and my weaknesses… and work on what I want to improve.” After initially being overwhelmed while competing in the Miss Mississippi pageant this summer, Gibson credits her discomfort with immense personal growth. She said that without “that small hump, that small obstacle where I wasn’t quite sure of myself…I wouldn’t be what I am today.”

While her participation in the Parade of Beauties last year was her first pageantry experience, junior Taylor Whitlock returned this year because of the friendships she had made with the other competitors. Before the pageant, Whitlock said, “You meet so many girls, and it’s such a fun time.” After being sorted into smaller groups, “we all just had good conversations and all help[ed] each other…seeing everybody all dolled up is always a blast.” Whitlock credited her sorority sisters who “uplifted me and brought me to this experience.”

The clear majority of the participants Wednesday were sorority women and overwhelmingly white. Despite the lack of diversity, ASB President Austin Powell said the Parade of Beauties, “with inviting all people to participate…We want to celebrate what womanhood is and what that means for the individual student.” Parade of Beauties is unique in that the only criteria for being a competitor is to be sponsored. That sponsorship can come from anywhere. For example, one competitor was sponsored by a store downtown and another by a health clinic.

Most Beautiful 2016, Laine Mansour, was excited to pass her crown to her successor.

“Everyone keeps asking me if I’m sad, and you know I’m really not,” Mansour said. “I’m just excited for someone else to be it because it’s been such a fun year.”

Uniquely, it wasn’t the evening wear portion that impacted Mansour the most when she competed. Even though the interview portion is only worth 10 percent, Mansour wanted “to go in and be candid and genuine… so I just walked in and talked about my faith and how if anything can define me it’s not the pageants I’ve won–it’s God.”

At the end of the night, Mansour crowned the young woman deemed to be the Most Beautiful for the next year. Blair Wortsmith, a sophomore from Little Rock, Arkansas, took home the title Wednesday and will be an ambassador for Ole Miss throughout this next year.