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Unwitting or deliberate? Debate rages over models' revealing acts

Ha Anh's (right) and Bebe Pham's "moment of revelation" in Diamond Night show

When the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast during a Superbowl show in 2004 set off far-reaching ripples

including the spawning of words and phrases like Nipplegate and "wardrobe malfunction," it did not cross US borders in any significant way.

Shortly after, a BBC News report quoted a Syracuse University professor of television studies as saying: "I know many people in other countries are scratching their heads and thinking, "˜What in the world is the big fuss over there?'"

However, six years on, Nipplegate is still lapping at Vietnamese shores, triggering further spasms of breast beating and head scratching.

Early this month, popular model Bebe Pham was strutting her stuff on the catwalk in an evening gown glittering with gemstones, appropriately enough for an event called Diamond Night, when the inappropriate happened. The gown slipped, baring Pham's bosom for a split- second (or two) that was stretched much, much longer as the image received a million hits on the Internet.

With several past scandals attracting charges that upcoming models, actors and singers were adopting the any-publicity-isgood-publicity maxim, Pham was quick to proclaim her innocence. She said that she had felt nothing amiss when she tested the gown backstage half-an-hour before the show began.

"It must have been the heavy ornamental gemstones attached to the top of the dress that made it slip. When I tried on the dress earlier, I felt it fit well, so I did not ask the designer to make any adjustment. But when I performed many moves on the stage..." Furthermore, she explained, whenever she wore topless gowns she also donned a special bra, just in case.

Pham said she was surprised and sad that her "˜moment of revelation' was flashed on the Internet so many times. It was the first time in a career almost a decade long, spanning several national and international assignments that Bebe Pham was in trouble, with reports saying authorities were planning to study the incident and fine the parties concerned.

Given all the positive publicity she was getting from her participation in the historical TV series Huyen Su Thien Do that celebrates Hanoi's millennial anniversary, Pham took pains to stress that if she was seeking fame, she should have pulled such stunts years ago, not now. She said she was upset that her devotion to the TV series paled into insignificance in just a few seconds.

The same night, September 4, fuel was added to the fire as another leading model, Ha Anh, slipped up with a super-short black dress that did not cover her white panties. Like Pham, Ha Anh denied that this was a black and white case of self-promotion, a notion that gained credence when a model named T.V.A (abbreviated) mentioned in her blog that the model had rolled her dress up before singing.

On her Facebook page, Ha Anh said she was ashamed.

"I was too busy to check my costume. It is the truth. I will never wear a short blouse or skirt on stage anymore. I never want to live with a scandal. I am just one of the modern youths working hard to realize my dreams," she wrote.

Public reaction

Netizens apportioned blame on different stakeholders, with many saying Pham deserved their sympathy.

Thuy Nhien, an English teacher wrote to the VnExpress, saying that the topless moment should be blamed on Son's design that left nothing to the imagination.

"How can a woman wear that dress? It is too revealing and nearly shows off all the boobs. I wonder how the dress passed the censors," she fumed.

Another VnExpress reader, Vo Van, was bemused by the idea of an enquiry into the incident. How could concerned agencies determine whether the incidents were intentional or not, she wondered.

Organizers have since announced, after meeting with concerned agencies, that no fines will be levied over the sartorial incidents/accidents this time around.

In 2004, singers Ho Quynh Huong and Doan Trang were strongly reprimanded for their low-necked outfits when performing in the Sieu Mau Vietnam (Vietnam Supermodel) Contest. In 2008, organizers of the Dem Phong Cach (Stylish Night) were fined VND9 million for sartorial failings leading to "indecent' exposure.

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