Asia Life

Miss World to Swap Bikinis for Sarongs in Indonesia

Recent Features

Asia Life

Miss World to Swap Bikinis for Sarongs in Indonesia

After protests from Muslim hardliners, Miss World 2013 will bypass the traditional bikini show in Indonesia.

An announcement yesterday by Miss World’s billionaire organizer, Indonesian media magnate Hary Tanoesoedibjo, has received a lukewarm response. Although Miss World 2013 will be held partly near the tropical beaches of Bali this September, the bikini show will be nixed.

“It has been misunderstood by some people that Miss World is a beauty competition focusing on the physical attractiveness of a woman’s body,” Tanoesoedibjo said. “This is absolutely misleading.” According to Tanoesoedibjo, the contest is primarily about “inner beauty, which includes intelligence, manners and achievement.”

Tanoesoedibjo has not proposed an all-out ban on swimwear. The crackdown only applies to two-piece suits. The 137 contestants will don ensembles of one-pieces with sarongs and beach hats. The event’s organizers made the call in an effort to appease conservative sentiment in the country.

“There will be no bikini in this year’s Miss World pageant to respect our traditional customs and values,” said Adjie S. Soeratmadjie from the RCTI, the event’s official local broadcaster and organizer.

The sarong switch strikes a blow to a time-honored tradition of the pageant, in which contestants wore bikinis as far back as the first editions of the 1950s. The first winner was even crowned in a two-piece. Nonetheless, HQ in London has complied.

Over the years the bikini element of the show has morphed into a “beach fashion show”, in which contestants suited up in locally designed swimsuits, indicating a bit of leeway in the concept. In this sense, Jakarta’s call for a sarong show is not all that drastic. But for those with beliefs at stake, it is an important matter.

“This is a sensitive issue in Indonesia,” Soeratmadjie added. “We have discussed it since last year and they (London) have agreed.”

While Indonesia is widely seen as a tolerant society, there are religious elements such as clerics in the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) who remain opposed to the sight of skin. Indonesia is 90 percent Muslim.

“That contest is just an excuse to show women’s body parts that should remain covered,” said Mukri Aji, a prominent MUI cleric from West Java. “It’s against Islamic teachings.”

Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia added fuel to fire, saying it plans to protest the event and call for organizers to hold it elsewhere.

The bikini ban is the latest in a series of attempts to keep displays of the body at bay, affected Lady Gaga, who was forced to cancel her sold-out Jakarta show after being called a “devil’s messenger”, to Jennifer Lopez, who toned her moves and outfits down a notch for her concert in the capital last December.

In 2007, Indonesian protesters forced Riyo Mori, Miss Universe winner from Japan, to call off a charity event, claiming she stood for “the world’s adultery and pornography” and was “against Sharia”.