Susan Akin, the newly crowned Miss America, said yesterday in New York that she sprayed an athletic adhesive on her bottom to keep her swimsuit firmly in place during the Atlantic City competition that ended Saturday.
The 21-year-old woman, who entered as Miss Mississippi, expressed surprise that her comments on a radio show about using the adhesive called Firm Grip had elicited so much attention.
"There were 51 contestants who used that stuff," chuckled Akin in a phone conversation yesterday evening from her New York hotel room. "People have gotten off the wall on this. It does no shrinking. It does no firming. It does nothing but keep your swimsuit in place. I do it because I don't want to be embarrassed if my swimsuit rides up."
Akin is in New York for the traditional first-week round of interviews and shopping that go to the new Miss America. "Everybody's fastened on this today," said her traveling companion Margaret Stevenson about the revelation, "and I don't mean that as a pun."
Akin, a 5-foot-9, 114-pound blond with a spectacular figure, won a preliminary swimsuit competition in the pageant last week. For the final, televised competition Saturday night, she wore a low-cut white swimsuit, one of several suits she had brought to the pageant.
Pageant officials said they had no problems with the use of Firm Grip -- an adhesive also used to keep toupees in place -- or any artificial figure enhancers. "We don't go poking around in what they wear, how they get into it or how they get out of it," said Karen Aarons, the assistant executive secretary of the pageant. "That's their business."
The pageant does not supply the product but, according to Aarons, it appeared to be in widespread use at this year's pageant. "The woman who's in charge of the dressing room said they must have had about 30 cans of it backstage, so they must have all brought their own," she said.
"Oh, gosh, it's been around for years," said Akin, who heard about it in her home state and first used it when she competed in the 1983 Miss Mississippi pageant.
Contestants rely on it "if your behind is flabby, if you didn't lose as much weight as you should have," Akin said. "We didn't think I really needed it, but I always wanted it for protection. People used to use double-stick adhesive tape, but it crinkled with me and didn't work well."
Akin said she saw lots of figure-sculpting backstage at the Miss America pageant: "There was taping, there was padding, there was everything." Akin said she does no taping or padding and relies on the suit to do some work: "At the top, it's not tight tight. But it's tight on your body to keep you firm, so you don't bounce all over the place."
Pageant officials were somewhat surprised by Akin's revelation, according to Aarons, who did some research. "What they do is spray it where the bathing suit meets the leg and press the bathing suit onto the skin so it doesn't ride up. And you thought they stayed in place because they were so thin," she laughed. "So did I."
Firm Grip is one of several athletic antislip products available in aerosol or tube in athletic stores.
"The tube is just really gooey, real gross," said Akin. "The spray is easier."
It can save a contestant from an awkward situation: "You can't really reach up and pull the suit down when you're walking on a runway in front of 20,000 spectators," said Pat Hopson, who along with her husband W. Briggs Hopson, chairman of the board of the Miss Mississippi pageant, grooms the Mississippi contestants for the Miss America pageant.
Both the Firm Grip and the swimsuit under which it was applied come off easily. "It comes right off. It's not like tape," says Hopson.
Akin, who trained for the swimsuit competition with intensive exercising, last Friday called her competition "a really tough group. There were some good-looking bodies."
But since her victory, Akin laughed, she's "been eating anything and everything."
And enjoying New York. "It's a little bit of fast-lane life," she said.