Criticism has spread on the Internet whether the sexy swimsuit photographs of Honey Oo (aka Hazel Moe), a young Burmese woman, are culturally appropriate.
Honey Oo was previously a child model on the catwalk and modeled for magazine covers while in Burma. She moved to London when she was 16 where she was spotted by modeling agencies.
“Photos in swimming suits may not be appropriate in Burmese eyes,” Honey Oo told The Irrawaddy. “I have received many e-mails criticizing me for wearing them. I just want people to consider that I am creating art and doing a job.”
“In Burma, women must both act and model,” she said. “But the income in my country is different from other countries where people can survive by focusing on only one profession.”
A businessperson who established a model agency and training center in Burma said the reason Burmese models have not been able to reach other Asian markets is not because of their qualifications, but because they lack the opportunities.
“The restrictions on expressing art and the lack of opportunities in independent creativity have prevented Burma’s modeling industry from expanding to other countries,” he said.
He added that most Burmese models have yet to reach international standards due to the fact that many people still cannot differentiate between culture and art.
“While advertising a new line in fashion, helms could be lower or higher depending on the design. If a model has to cover her body carefully while being shot it will affect the original concept and we will not have a good photo shoot or an advertisement,” said a well-known Burmese photographer on condition of anonymity. “What makes things difficult in Burma is that we have a problem with censorship and that people accept culture in the wrong way.”
However, the role of models in Burma has reportedly become bigger following changes in the production of commercials.
A Rangoon-based model Chan Chan said that modeling was nevertheless still frowned on in Burma’s social arena.
“For example, if a dress made by a designer for a catwalk is not familiar to Burmese eyes, people will not like it,” she said. “Obviously, the way a model dresses is not the same as any other female artiste. Because of the way we have to dress people should pay less attention to culture while judging us.”
Speaking to The Irrawaddy, a retired female professor from Burma’s Ministry of Culture said every country should preserve their own culture, but that should not include changing the way people live and dress.
“Even though fashion and photo models are still not very popular in Burmese society, I, as a Burmese woman, can accept them and their artwork as long as they are not nude or Playboy models,” said the professor.