Carnelle Scott is best-known in her hometown of Yazoo City, Mississippi, for her unrepentant promiscuity. An orphan taken in by her genteel relatives, she idolizes her older cousin, Elain Rutledge, a former Fourth of July "Miss Firecracker" contest winner who is taking time out from her life as a pampered wife in Atlanta to give a speech on "My Life as a Beauty" at this year's pageant. Determined to follow in Elain's footsteps, Carnelle puts a damper on her libido and enlists the help of local seamstress Popeye Jackson in preparing for the pageant. She also implores Elain to let her borrow the red dress in which Elain won the contest in 1972. Meanwhile, Elain's brother, ne'er-do-well Delmount Williams, arrives with a get-rich-quick scheme that involves hocking the family estate. Into this mix steps Mac Sam, one of the men who contributed to Carnelle's scandalous past.