bikini models

By Jeraldine Phneah

I read in the news two days ago that Miss World would be removing the bikini segment in their competition to be held in Bali, Indonesia this year.

This is due to pressure from hardliners in Indonesia who deem the contest as 'immoral'

As one of the contestants for Miss Singapore World, I asked the local organizers about this and they said that they are removing the bikini segment in the finals but may still have a bikini photoshoot.

For the global competition, all contestants will be required to wear Bali's traditional long sarongs instead of the bikinis that are usually part of the competition.

Miss World Organisation chairwoman Julia Morley told the international press that they do not want to upset or get anyone in a situation where they are being disrespectful.

Yet, this compromise of removing the bikini segment was insufficient for the radicals. They wanted the entire contest to be prohibited from being held in Indonesia.

Why so?

  • Hardliners generally perceive bikinis to "destroy their children's sense of morality" and "encourage sex and immoral acts"
  • They see it as supporting the selling of Women's bodies. Ismail Yusanto, Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia, who also warned the group may organise protests: "Supporting this event is the same as supporting the selling of women's bodies"
  • They see it as objectifying women. Hardline group the Islam Reformist Movement (Garis): “Women are lowering themselves by allowing themselves to be turned into objects, to be stared at and have their bodies measured,” 

This is not the first time it has happened to Indonesia. Singer Beyonce and band The Pussycat Dolls have been asked to cover up before performing there. Last year, pop sensation Lady Gaga axed a concert after hardliners threatened to burn down the venue and criticized her for wearing only “a bra and panties”

According to ABC News, the Indonesians who caused the removal of the bikini segment do not represent the whole of Indonesia. Most Muslims in Indonesia, a secular country of 240 million people, are moderate, but a small extremist fringe has become more vocal in recent years.

I think it is quite considerate of the Miss World Organization to not want to cause any disrespect.It is also a good PR move as protests can affect the reputation of the organization and making them seem ‘inconsiderate’ or ‘insensitive’. Having worked as a journalist, I am aware that the media sometimes can lend a pitiful angle to protesters, making them appear victimized.


However, I do not agree with the hardliners for many rational reasons.

First of all, I feel that there seems to be a double standard for beauty queens as compared to regular people. Bali is heavily dependent on beach tourism for survival. Every single day on the beaches, it is very common to see tourists donning bikinis and walking around. They appear on Indonesian news channels. Why disallow this because the people wearing it are going to be good looking? Don’t you sense some kind of lookism and discrimination against the genetically-blessed involved here?

Just check out the cool fashion TV BIKINI party at Kudeta Beach Club in BALI


Secondly, I think that banning the entire contest does Indonesia more harm than good. Indonesia is a developing state. According to the United Nations, half of Indonesia lives on less than 2USD per day.

One of their key industries is tourism and Miss World could help the industry. Ordos, in inner Mongolia, which hosted the Miss World 2012, has experienced a 300 percent increase in the number of foreign visitors to the country since the pageant. Similarly, local businesses in Indonesia and the tourism industry have a lot of revenue to gain from this event.

It is also worthwhile to question what is the effectiveness of this ‘censorship’ in promoting morals and values? 

The latest Google Trends ranks Indonesia sixth behind Pakistan, Vietnam, India, Egypt and Morocco in Internet search requests using “sex” as the key word, while a more commonly quoted survey has it third in Web pornography downloads. Mind you, this is in spite of Indonesia having the lowest level of overall Internet penetration in Southeast Asia by only 21 percent of Indonesians aged between 15 and 49 use the Internet.

The National Commission on Violence against Women in Indonesia also shared that 20 women suffer sexual violence each day in Indonesia. (note that this only includes reported statuses).


Clearly, censorship has been ineffective so far. Why? because censorship doesn’t change people’s mindset about things. It cures the symptoms but not the problem. Many countries censor things which seem offensive to the ruling party but does it really change how people feel about them? China has censored so many unfavourable things to the communist party and tried to suppress dissident voices but this has only angered the people more.


Censorship can make people more curious about things that are being hidden from them. Research conducted by Susan M. Blake (Susan M. Blake, et al; 2001) revealed that children whose parents talk with them about sexual matters or provide sex education or contraceptive information at home are more likely than others to postpone sexual activities.

If you note the countries which top the list in the Google survey, you will realize that many of them have the strictest moral policies.  It is just like a man who is hungry. You can hide all the pictures of food from him but you do not cure his hunger. It is like the Adam and Eve and apple story where the unknown or something they did not have an understanding towards made them sin.


On the contrary, I believe that exposure to these content can actually desensitize people towards them, therefore reducing their tendency to have ‘immoral thoughts’. I will cite a personal example here. When I first saw a guy shirtless in some magazine, I was like “WAH, got six packs ah”. After constant exposure to this content, I no longer felt that way and can walk past such things without taking a second look.

Instead of focusing on removing content that can potentially stimulate the viewer, perhaps Indonesia might want to focus more on educating their people. I think that will be much more effective in preventing.


Radicals also comment that women will wear outfits that ‘encourage sex and immoral acts’. This makes us question, is it the outfit that encourages sex and immoral acts or the perception of the viewer? 

Anyone with a good eye for art and genuine appreciation for beauty, can clearly differentiate between what is sexual and sensual. If the viewer sees a woman in bikini and appreciates it from an artistic or beautiful perspective, will it still encourage sex and immoral acts? Various art forms portray nudity but yet do not encourage sexual or immoral acts.

Clearly, it is not about the outfit but the way things are being presented and more importantly, the perspective of the viewer.

Furthermore, if one blames the woman and her outfit, wouldn’t it be very unhealthy for the Indonesian society to engage in ‘blaming’ of the woman, a common phenomenon where the woman is blamed for enticing the rapist/molester instead of being sympathized with.


While extremists believe that the pageant is all about 'selling ones bodies', I would like to clarify that it is more than just that.

Miss World differs from regular contests for men’s magazines etc because there are holistic factors taken into account when judging. There is the talent segment (which tests talents), Q&A (which tests brains) and public voting (which tests popularity). All these add towards the final score of judging.

Hence, given that such a holistic assessment criteria is being used, how can one evaluate the purpose of the entire pageant based on one criteria alone. It is as ridiculous as me saying "Miss world is all about selling ones brains". Clearly, intelligence is not the sole criteria.

Also, the slogan is ‘beauty with a purpose’ which promotes good causes and the winner usually devotes one year to community involvement projects worldwide.


Finally, many seem to have a skewed perception of tolerance such as bowing to the outrage of certain groups. 

However, shouldn't tolerance come from two sides? Meaning to say that people who practice religion should be allowed to do so but not impose it on others and those who are atheists have freedom to be but not given the right to demean people who practice religion by labeling them as silly.

If Indonesia is truly the most democratic country in Southeast Asia and a free society, shouldn't it embrace tolerance from the side of permissiveness?


Jeraldine Phneah, 22, is a prominent socio-political blogger and founder of nonprofit organization, Creatives For Causes. As a rationalist, Jeraldine highly discourages personal attacks against any party and instead, promotes constructive criticism that targets policies, stimulates debate and helps everyone find a better solution. Her vision is for Singapore to evolve into a strong and successful civil society where active citizens and the government can collaborate to improve society.