RSS
The controversial bikini ban at the Miss World beauty pageant
Since the September contest is being hosted by Muslim-majority Indonesia, the contestants will sport more modest beachwear than usual
The 2007 Miss World contestants dance in their swimsuits.
The 2007 Miss World contestants dance in their swimsuits. Feng Li/Getty Images
T

he organizers of the Miss World pageant, scheduled for September in Indonesia, cast aside tradition this week, and announced that bikinis would be banned in the swimwear competition. For the first time, contestants will be required to don one-pieces and even sarongs, traditional beachwear on the resort island of Bali, where the competition will be held. The Miss World pageant began in 1951 as a bikini show for the Festival of Britain — so why the sudden modesty?

Julia Morley, the chairwoman of the Miss World Organization, says the decision was made so as not to be "disrespectful" to Indonesia, which is the world's biggest Muslim-majority country. Morley's trepidation likely came after the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country's top Muslim clerical body, called for canceling the pageant, saying it promotes "hedonism, materialism, and consumerism," and is nothing but "an excuse to show women's body parts that should remain covered."

Critics see the organization's move as kowtowing to extremists, and argue that it will only embolden them. Several have noted that Indonesia is a tolerant, secular nation of 240 million, and most of its Muslims are moderates. Mary Katherine Ham at Hot Air notes that only the extremists are complaining, yet, she says, "we happily buckle to these blowhards at the mere suggestion of a protest?"

This isn't just a problem with religious Muslims, though their protests do generally carry with them a higher than average carnage quotient, but with Western society bending to every single neighborhood narc or busybody who sends an irate letter to the editor. No wonder certain populations find threats of violence so effective. [Hot Air]

Indeed, this year's 137 Miss World contestants won't be the first women forced to cover up in Indonesia. Singer Beyonce and band The Pussycat Dolls have been asked to cover up before performing there. And The Hollywood Gossip notes that Lady Gaga canceled a concert in Jakarta last year after religious protestors denounced her as a "messenger of the devil." A Miss World pageant without bikinis, Hollywood Gossip adds, will be as awkward as "Kim Kardashian without her Facebook account," or "Justin Bieber without his tattoos."

Still, conservative Muslims aren't the first ones to object to the skimpy swimwear that has become a staple of the Miss World contest. Brooke Magnanti points out at Britain's Telegraph that Pope Pius XII condemned the first winner — Kiki Hakansson from Sweden, who was the first and last Miss World to be crowned in her bikini. And, Magnanti notes, feminist protesters regularly protested the pageant 1970s and '80s, calling it sexist. Nevertheless, Magnanti herself doesn't see a problem with bikinis at a pageant:

Personally, I'd love to see bikinis on more women, not fewer. We are so often ashamed of our bodies and think going for a dip on a hot summer's day is something that need to be dieted and exercised for, as if the enjoyment of cooling off is only for the thin and the young. Why not be comfortable and stylish if a bikini's what you fancy? [Telegraph]

The puzzling thing is that if there's one place in Indonesia accustomed to bikinis, it is Bali, a haven for international tourists sporting sometimes minimal swimwear. Rob Port at Say Anything Blog says this flap should serve as an example of why it's always wrong to let extremists use threats to impose their will on others.

Many seem to define tolerance as bowing to the outrage of certain groups. Like Muslims. Or atheists, when it comes to public religious displays. But shouldn't a free society embrace tolerance from the side of permissiveness? Meaning, shouldn't we seek to allow more stuff to happen (like religious displays in public, bikini competitions, etc.) and then expect the perpetually outraged to, you know, tolerate whatever outrages them? [Say Anything Blog]

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week