Sorry, Midriff-Lovers: No Bikinis in the Miss World Pageant This YearS

When the Miss World pageant began in London in 1951, the winner — Sweden's Kiki Haakonson — was crowned in a two-piece swimsuit. But this year, the pageant is being held in Indonesia — world's most populous Islamic country — and bikinis will not be present.

Miss World, called the "oldest surviving major international beauty pageant," actually started as a bikini contest slash swimwear fashion show. But it grew and changed through the years, and in the '80s adopted the slogan "Beauty With A Purpose." The winner makes appearances in various countries, and proceeds from tickets sold for these appearances is donated to children's charities. (Although Wikipedia notes: "Miss World, Limited is a privately held firm, and thus figures for its earnings, expenses and charitable contributions are not publicly available.")

But back to the swimsuits! From the New York Times:

“It has been misunderstood by some people that Miss World is a beauty competition focusing on the physical attractiveness of a woman’s body,” the organizer, Hary Tanoesoedibjo, an Indonesian media tycoon, said.

“This is absolutely misleading,” Mr. Tanoesoedibjo said, adding that the pageant is also about “inner beauty, which includes intelligence, manners and achievement.”

Okay, but you're still judging women, right? In a country that would prefer women to be covered from ankle to neck? In some ways it seems like a battle of oppression: Is it worse that we live in a world where women put their flesh on display in front of a crowd, asking to be approved and ranked? Or that there are cultures and religions that create an environment where a woman is not supposed to reveal her legs or shoulders in public?

There will be a "beach fashion show" as part of the contest, with competitors wearing Bali's traditional long sarongs. The official word is that bikinis are not banned, per se, but that the pageant organizers are "conforming to the rules in Indonesia." Chairwoman Julia Morley puts it this way: "I don't think Indonesia is the only country that has that culture… But we like to work in the manner respectful to every country, and I cannot see why when you go to somebody's country you should not behave respectfully."

[AP, CBS News, NYT]

Image via AP.