I found this article earlier and found it to be quite interesting and thought provoking…
Miss World has decided to axe the bikini section from this year’s pageant in Indonesia, replacing swimsuits with more conservative attire, beach sarongs, in order to avoid causing offence in a Muslim-majority Indonesia.
The contest is being held on the resort island of Bali and in Jakarta, Indonesia. Bali is famous for its beaches, attracting millions of foreign tourists every year. In Bali, the beaches are almost always packed with women sunbathing in skimpy swimwear, so many argue why the fuss? The pageant argues its decision is a direct response to what happened during a Lady Gaga visit to Indonesia last year. Apparently, Lady Gaga cancelled her show because “extremists, branding her a ‘devil worshipper’ in part for her skimpy attire, threatened to torch the venue if she performed”.
People are in uproar because they feel that it is unjust to remove the swimsuit portion of the competition because it is a staple component of the pageant. However, thinking about what we have read in class got me wondering, why not axe the swimsuit section all together? What purpose does it actually serve?
Sarah Banet-Weiser shows how Miss World contestants are effectively moral representations of their countries. Looking at Miss America, she highlights how Miss America is a representation of the “American Woman” whereby “The ‘America’ in Miss America signals not only nation but citizenship and the “Miss” in the title calls attention to a particular representative of the nation, a specific kind of ideal, universal citizen” (8). The swimsuit competition however, seems to put the female body on display, a commodity that is to be critiqued and judged. It is not a reflection of moral character but rather physical attractiveness. Banet-Weiser goes on to discuss the contradictory nature of the swimsuit component of the competition. She explains that the change in name from the swimsuit competition to the “physical fitness competition” (25) changes nothing to the underlying message of the swimsuit component. The very pitting of the swimsuit competition’s object against the interview’s subject rather reflects the notion of being sexual and serious at the same time.
Unfortunately, a lot of the backlash against the committee’s decision to ban the swimsuit component was not based on the problematic nature of the swimsuit competition itself but rather its focus is that it was banned because Indonesia is a Muslim country.
Therefore, I question, what role does the swimsuit component actually play in the political shaping of Miss World as a representation of her country? Why not axe the swimsuit competition permanently? How does the fact that Indonesia is a Islamic country influence the ways outsiders, especially those from the west, perceieve and interpret this decision?
Weiser, Sarah. The most beautiful girl in the world beauty pageants and national identity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.