Tears of joy flowing beneath their glittering crowns, Dinh Nhu Phuong and Kim Ngan gracefully thank the judges and the audience. The young women have just won beauty pageants in Vietnam.The final shows of Miss Vietnam Sea and Island 2022 and Miss Global Vietnam 2022 were held almost simultaneously, amid a dramatic increase in the number of beauty contests held nationwide, triggering heated debate.
"Two beauty queens in one night – isn't that a bit too much?" read a headline in local newspaper VnExpress the following day.
Many in Vietnam worry that the lucrative business of beauty pageants is getting out of hand. A decade ago, there was only a handful of competitions people actually knew by name, including the prestigious "Miss Vietnam" and "Miss Universe Vietnam," which determine who can participate in the global "Miss Universe" competition.
But in 2022, Vietnam's Ministry of Culture officially approved at least 22 beauty contests, with the events' names as perplexing as the meaning of the dazzling spectacles themselves.
"I used to watch these shows for the glitz and glamour, but now there are too many for me to keep up with," wrote Facebook user Trinh Nguyen. Another said: "Two beauty queens in one night is too much. I've never even heard of 'Miss Vietnam Sea and Island' and 'Miss Global Vietnam'."
A third quipped: "If this continues, in a few years all Vietnamese men will be marrying a beauty pageant winner or runner-up.”
One of the reasons for the proliferation is that the government passed new rules in 2020, historian Duong Trung Quoc told dpa. "We have 63 provinces and all of them are now allowed to hold competitions."
Quoc, who was a jury member for the "Miss Vietnam Sea and Island" contest, says most are funded by private companies, but they “bring economic benefits for entire regions, especially in terms of tourism and investment.”
Above all, sponsors seek to benefit. "When a miss is crowned, she often becomes the face of the company that paid for the contest," says Quoc. If shows are poorly organized, the organizers' reputation can suffer, potentially leading to a negative impact on financial support for future competitions, he says. That makes it all the more important to find "worthy" beauty queens who can contribute to Vietnam’s development and improve its reputation.
"Although there are so many beauty queens, it is still very difficult to find qualified candidates to represent the country in international competitions," journalist Nguyen Van Thieng wrote in VietnamNet, an online newspaper.
Vietnamese contestants in global beauty pageants often appear to lack self-confidence or seem immature and inexperienced, in competitions that seek queens who display intelligence, talent and virtue, alongside physical beauty.
The bikini competition at "Miss Sea and Island 2022" however maintains a focus on physical beauty, with intellect and skills seemingly of lesser interest. "The number of competitions is increasing, but they are also controversial," says Nguyen Thuy Dung, who works for a car company in Hanoi and has followed the shows with interest for years. "Many candidates today don't have much to offer apart from physical beauty."
Ten years ago, she knew the names of the competition winners by heart. "After their victory, these beauty queens made many positive contributions to the community, such as charitable activities," Dung told dpa. But nowadays you can barely count the many pageant winners let alone remember their names, she says. "The whole thing is out of balance and that's not good.”
Many Vietnamese people posted comments after the article in VnExpress. "Whether it's beauty pageants or modelling contests, it's just a faster way for women to get a better life and an income," wrote one. "It's a business like any other. Who cares how many shows there are?"
But another complained that the whole thing had reached ridiculous proportions and said all the candidates look the same these days, while a third sneered: "I find cat shows much more interesting." - dpa