Students flock to beauty pageants

April 7, 2000

The banning of the swimsuit section at the annual Miss Thailand contest has led to a flood of interest from university students who are eager to show they have beauty as well as brains.

For years Thailand's ubiquitous televised beauty pageants have been frowned on by students, parents and lecturers, who have been keen to protect the dignity of Thai women.

Despite Bangkok's reputation as the sex capital of the world, most Thai women are traditionally conservative and will often only swim in public wearing a T-shirt over a bathing costume.

The swimsuit section has in the past deterred all but the poor, the western-raised Thai or the brave from entering the contest.

Last year's crowning of Miss Thailand, Apsimai Srirangsan, a medical graduate and trainee psychiatrist nicknamed "Dr Bird", kicked off a storm of protest from psychiatrists. They accused her of bringing the profession into disrepute and of being too "self-loving" to be any good at her desired profession.

Student contestants seem to be popular with pageant judges. Last month's winner of the new Miss Thailand Universe pageant was Kulthida Yenpraseert, an architecture student at Thailand's most prestigious Chulalongkorn University.

Next month's rival Miss Thailand contest is also a hot topic among students, following the organisers' ban of swimsuits in favour of a cultural section and evening dresses.

But lecturers are still in two minds about whether or not to allow students to step on to the catwalk. Thailand's teacher training Rajabhat Institutes have threatened students with suspension if they enter.

University rectors are ready to take tough action, as business student Dawan Singwee found out. She was almost stripped of her degree late last year after appearing nude in a men's magazine. Her university relented only on the condition she did not turn up for the graduation ceremony.

Qualified queen: Miss Thailand 1999, Apsimai Srirangsan, a trainee psychiatrist, has been accused of bringing her profession into disrepute

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