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​Debate brews in Vietnam on whether to drop bikini round in beauty pageants

Friday, June 08, 2018, 15:03 GMT+7
​Debate brews in Vietnam on whether to drop bikini round in beauty pageants
A Vietnamese contestant performs in a swimsuit at Miss Grand International in the southern coastal province of Kien Giang in 2017. Photo: Tuoi Tre

As Miss America announces that 2019 will be the competition's first year without a swimsuit round, Vietnam’s pageant organizers and industry insiders are arguing whether beauty contests in the Southeast Asian nation should follow suit.

The decision to remove the bikini round, an iconic part of the competition where contestants pose in swimsuits, was made by author and Miss America chairwoman Gretchen Carlson on Good Morning America on Tuesday.

Accordingly, there will be no swimsuits on the stage of Miss America starting from the 2019 pageant slated to be held on September 9, 2018 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“Miss America will only assess women on their intelligence, talents, and ideas,” Carlson said.

The news has sparked mixed reaction in Vietnam, where several beauty contests are held each year.

What’s left to see without the bikini?

Le Xuan Son, a lead organizer of Miss Vietnam, is strongly against removing the swimsuit round from his competition.

Son explained that Miss Vietnam, from its early days, has pursued a mission of looking at the “appearance, intellect, and inner beauty of women.”

Miss Vietnam contestants modeling swimsuits in Ho Chi Minh City in 2016.
Miss Vietnam contestants model swimsuits in Ho Chi Minh City in 2016. Photo: Tuoi Tre

“The swimsuit round is the best way to help assess the attractiveness of the contestants, and bathing suits are normal garments that are accepted in public, on beaches, even on American lawns,” Son said, underling that “the swimsuit round is totally reasonable and necessary in a beauty contest."

Miss America is not the first beauty pageant to put its bikinis in the closet. Miss World drowned its swimsuit round in 2015.

Miss World chairwoman Julia Morley, at that time, told Elle magazine that the posing in swimsuits contributed nothing to the selection process.

“The contestants are already the most beautiful women in their countries. So, what the competition searches for is not physical beauty, but wisdom, kindness, and a strong spirit to serve voluntary works in during their reign,” the chairwoman said.

Even Miss Universe has begun to shift toward the search for ‘intellectual beauty’ in its selection process, according to Thuy Nga, general director of Elite Vietnam, a model management agency.

For Vietnam, however, Nga gave a resounding “no” on whether she feels the country should eliminate swimsuits from its pageants.

“We have to look at where we are. Our beauty contests are still amateur. They aren’t really professional competitions.” 

Nga added that Vietnamese beauty queens are often not beautiful enough for a competition to be taken seriously.

“If we give up the swimsuit round, how will the judges select a winner when the interview round is considered a joke?

"Between ‘bad knowledge’ and ‘not so bad physical appearance,' what do you think the judges should choose?”

Miss America contestants modeling swimsuits in Atlantic City in 1965.
Miss America contestants model swimsuits in Atlantic City in 1965. Photo: The New York Times

Women are not a commodity

Dr. Khuat Thu Hong, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies, a non-governmental, non-profit organization in Hanoi, represents the other side of the argument.

“No matter how highly people may speak about the swimsuit round, the essence of it is to look at women as a commodity, to show them in outfits that reveal their body to the public,” Hong shared.

Of the same mind, Miss Vietnam 2010 Ngoc Han agrees that eliminating the bikini round is a step forward for women.

“It’s a good and humane approach. It’s unnecessary to make the contestants walk on the stage in tiny bikinis,” Han said.

“To evaluate their physical beauty, the judges can focus on body measurements from the physicians,” the Han suggested.

Le MinhTuan, deputy head of the Department of Performing Arts, said that the department will seek feedback on the issue at an upcoming conference scheduled on June 22 in Hue to discuss draft regulations governing the management of the performing arts.

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Bao Anh / Tuoi Tre News

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