Should Vietnam abolish beauty pageants?

With a media storm swirling around an ongoing beauty pageant for being insensitive to flood victims, we ask what the point of these contests is.

Beauty pageants are ubiquitous in Vietnam. They are organized at schools, universities, regionally and nationally.

Widely understood as a way to celebrate Vietnamese women’s beauty and intellect, beauty contests are treated as major events and beauty queens are revered by some as examples for young girls to look up to. Those chosen to represent Vietnam at international competitions are widely seen as symbols of Vietnamese women, whose behavior and image could make or break Vietnam’s cultural identity internationally.

While some winners have gone on to earn the public’s respect, like Miss Vietnam World Ngo Phuong Lan who is hosting APEC in Da Nang this week, many others have been subject to scandals, from wardrobe malfunctions, smoking in public, bad English, to organizing and working in prostitution rings.

Most recently, two national contests this year have drawn criticism – like almost none others before them.

On Saturday, Miss Universe Vietnam broadcast live its semifinal from the famous beach town of Nha Trang while the rest of its residents were struggling to cope with the destructive Typhoon Damrey. In the wake of online backlash, the culture ministry asked the organizer to postpone the rest of contest until the aftermath of the massive storm had been dealt with.

Over the past few weeks, the Miss Ocean Vietnam pageant has been subject to public ridicule for choosing an “undeserving” winner who had reportedly undergone plastic surgery and (still) “wasn’t beautiful enough.” Internet memes soon circulated on social media comparing her lips to a fish.

This has prompted both the public and officials to call for stricter controls of these contests to maintain sufficient “quality”, which could be vaguely understood as aligning with Vietnam’s culture and traditions, which are heavily influenced by Confucianism.

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