Kebaya for beauty pageants instead of swimsuits

From ‘Beauty queens and too much skin’, 6 Aug 2011, Mailbag, Life!

(Musliha Ajmain Janssen):…I would not presume to know whose idea it was to include the swimsuit in the beauty pagents but from what I have learnt, it is more than just about showing off one’s best figure.

In Europe, particularly in Scandinavia and Northern Europe where the climate is usually cold, women do not get a lot of chances to wear a swimsuit. When the seasons change and they do get the chance, it is a very big deal, which is why they call it the ‘swimsuit season’. Furthermore, most of them do not have easy access to the beach.

Women there also vary in body shapes (Italian and Spanish women are known to be more curvaceous) which makes watching the competition a lot of more interesting compared to Singapore, where most of the contestants are naturally thin.

Singapore’s climate enables swimsuit wear at any time of the day…so I fail to understand the point of the swimsuit category other than to merely follow the beauty pageant formula…For example, a kebaya would be a good way for the contestants to show off their figures…A kebaya shows off as much, if not more, than a swimsuit does.

This fuss over swimsuits and sexism comes in the wake of organisers of Miss S’pore World 2011 proposing to remove this category altogether, which would surely spell the downfall of the beauty pageant as we know it. Nothing but words being minced around here, with the writer’s final argument being self-defeating because instead of focusing on talent and intelligence as would be the typical stance of feminist swimsuit naysayers, she recommends instead body hugging kebayas as an excuse to ‘show off as much, if not more’ than a normal swimsuit does, though I fail to see how this is possible unless you’re talking about transparent kebayas.

Well to each his own, and call it sexist if you will, but what all men want to see is a teasing flesh parade, not SIA stewardesses on a catwalk. Bikinis are simple and almost anyone with a stunning figure will look good in it, but choose the wrong kebaya and you risk looking like a Nyonya grandmother. What’s left unspoken here, and in fact everywhere else,  is that bikinis don’t just signal figure or complexion, it is also a dead giveaway of bust size, something that kebayas can easily  conceal, or enhance. And no one can deny the harsh fact that being well-endowed does help in the overall scoring for this segment, and hence overall chance of success.

It’s also baffling to say swimsuit contests are unnecessary because Singaporean women get to wear these at any time of the day, as if it were office attire. This is Singapore, Ms Janssen, not Club Med. A woman looking good in a bikini on a beach is as rare a find as one who dazzles in a kebaya on the streets. But the horrible truth is this, men don’t gawk at women in just bikinis anymore. With the internet and Photoshop, nothing is left to the male imagination. We’re not interested in women putting on a sexy show for the sake of it. We’re interested in the context in which their sexiness is presented. A paparazzi shot of an otherwise conservative actress in swimwear intrigues us, whether or not she has a good figure.  But line up smiling bikini-clad women in a contest and asking of a selection like wares at a slave market and you’ve lost our attention.

Although removing the swimsuit category, or anything hinting at nudity from beauty pageants, may encourage more smart, talented, even chubby women otherwise averse to exposing their bodies to sign up for Miss Universe and the like, what’s the point if no one’s interested?  From a purely commercial perspective then, swimsuit contests are a necessary evil, if only for the minority of men who haven’t yet discovered the internet or prefer to snap shots of Miss World in the flesh at shopping malls.

Swimsuit contests in 1954


Still in one piece in 1988



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