Nude photo ban meets with opposition

By Nhung Nhung   April 13, 2016 | 02:47 pm GMT+7

The new restrictions on nude content by Vietnam's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism have raised more questions than answers.

The crowns bestowed on beauty pageant winners in Vietnam are going to become heavier for anyone wearing them after a new regulation by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism comes into force on May 15.

Circular No. 01, which was published earlier this month, prohibits winners of beauty and modeling contests from taking nude photos and publishing them online, wearing ‘offensive clothing that expose sensitive body parts’ and ‘engaging in improper conduct that is contrary to Vietnam’s pure tradition and fine customs.’

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Vo Hoang Yen, first runner-up of Miss Universe Vietnam 2008, and the winner of Vietnam Supermodel 2008, was fined in 2012 for exposing her breasts in a catwalk performance.

It is seen as the latest action by authorities to restrain Vietnamese artists from using shocking images as public stunts. “There are just too many beauty contests taking place these days, and more and more people are willing to show their bodies to attract attention,” said top model and TV show host Bui Thuy Hanh. “In my opinion, it is understandable for the ministry to impose such law to regulate the current ‘chaotic’ environment."

Trinh Tu Trung, a celebrity stylist, also believes the law is a necessity. “I think we need a deterrent for some individuals who want to use indecent images to gain fame.”

While it seems to have been issued with good intentions, the ban faces strong criticism for being too vague and broad to be enforced. “It needs to be more specific […]! For example, when they mention “offensive clothes”, they must give a clear definition because certain dresses might be agreeable to some and utterly repulsive to other more conservative eyes,” wrote Ao Thanh, a VnExpress reader in the comments section. The restriction could also become a ‘life sentence’ for beauty title-holders if the ministry does not specify how long it will impose the ban.

The general term of ‘without clothes’ used in the document to indicate nudity also raises more questions than answers, especially for professional nude photographers and models who believe the ban fails to separate the wheat from the chaff. Hoang My, Miss Vietnam first runner-up in 2010, recently shared her strong opposition by questioning its justification. “Nude photography is a form of art and should be respected. […] I don’t know what social contribution this law is going to make. When artists, models and beauty queens take nude art pictures, do they really create a bad image for their country? Or ‘go against the pure tradition and fine customs?’ […] Whether the pictures are beautifully or badly taken, we still need to be more open-minded to give way for a form of art to develop. True beauty will always be recognized.”

While there is no specific law regarding nude photography in Vietnam, the new regulation becomes a rule of thumb and subjectivity. “It would be determined by an appraisal committee whether a work is artistic nudity or pornography,” said the ministry's Chief of Office Phan Dinh Tan. “Still it is really hard to tell,” he later admitted.

Na Son, a prominent photographer, said the subjective judgment of the board would hamper the photographers’ creativity. “Each [nude] photo album by professional photographers contains their own individual ideas and points of view. It can be easily misunderstood and therefore wrongfully appraised,” he said. “The authorities should not apply their personal opinions to think on behalf of others.”

This is not the first time authorities in Vietnam, a country where the profound impact of Confucianism can still be observed, have introduced such controversial bans targeting "distasteful" public performances by artists. In the last decade, various restrictive regulations have come into force, including penalties on performers deemed wearing clothing ‘impropriate to Vietnam’s good traditional customs’, a ban on skimpy attire at fashion shows and beauty pageants, and prohibition on scenes of sexual content in movies. Nude photo exhibitions by professional photographers also rarely receive permission.

While it is still not clear how the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is going to answer all these questions before and after May 15, some seems to add a feminist look on the issue. Hoang My, who represented Vietnamese women at two international beauty pageants in 2011, said: “I feel my freedom is being violated. A woman’s body is one of the most perfect masterpieces on earth. Why should we be denied the right to preserve it through nude photos?”

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