CAMBODIA has resurrected a 1,000-year-old tradition of beauty pageants. Between the 9th and 12th centuries, the Hindu kings of the Khmer kingdom of Angkor had an elaborate system of choosing the most beautiful apsara (chief dancer for the Khmer court). And present day Cambodia has followed tradition by embracing every sponsored beauty contestfrom Lux to Konica. In contrast, neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia have taken a hardline attitude to promoting the female form in beauty contests.
Womens Affairs Minister of Indonesia, Mien Sugandhi, stated President Suhartos position clearly in May this year when she slapped an Indonesian law student, Alya Rohali, 20, who donned a swimsuit during this years Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas, calling her swimsuit pose vulgar.
The students actions sparked off a fiery debate among the traditionalists in what is the worlds largest Muslim nation, where 85 per cent of the 195 million population follow Islam. "The conclusion from President Suharto is: no foreign beauty contests for Indonesian women.... It is not in line with Indonesian culture," said Sugandhi.
However, pageants that are indigenously Indonesian seem to be acceptable. Jakarta is slated to hold the next Elite Lux Model Pageant and will have pretty faces from all over the nation. The top scorer is likely to be agriculture student Humbelina Borro-meu Duarte, 23, who represents East Timor, a territory Indonesia annexed in 1976, in a move still not recognised by the UN.
In Malaysia too, the out of bounds demarcations seem to have been drawn even tighter this year. Two schoolgirls who won a beauty contest earlier this year had to leave their school. The girls, from Pen-ang, the idyllic little island on Malaysias west coast, were expelled by the Penang State...