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Miss April looks out from her page with an expression of concern. Could it be consternation over the water fountains that have slicked her long brown hair to her scalp, neck and breasts? Or maybe it's the knowledge that those bikinied breasts have already caused one international incident. They angered hard-line Muslim officials in her native Pakistan -- and that was before the calendar. They were news in Asian and European papers for weeks. Now she's not only Miss April, but she's on the freaking cover, pierced navel and all. What horror will these breasts wreak now? Riots? Will a thousand ships be launched?
Or maybe 22-year-old Mariyah Moten is thinking about January, when she goes back to school at the University of Houston. She took a year off to focus on the competitions that made her (in)famous in Pakistan, and maybe she'll be a bit rusty when it comes to homework and exams.
But for now, she's preserved in the glossy amber of DesiClub.com's "Sexy South Asian Girls of 2007" Calendar. It's a freeze-frame of a time in history when a Pakistani-born woman could still be disgraced for wearing a bikini.
"All my family's been really supportive of this," Moten says. "And that's usually the hardest thing. If your family doesn't support you, it's much harder. You know, you can fight the world, but you can't fight the ones you love like that."
An enterprising reporter for China Daily is surprised to see a contestant representing Pakistan. It turns out that Mariyah Moten is in fact the first woman to represent that country in the Miss Bikini Universe competition. This quickly becomes the most exciting aspect of an event that not too many people outside the pageant industry might otherwise care about. Moten doesn't even win the pageant, but she isthe story.
She wins the title "Best in Media," for becoming the most photographed and interviewed contestant. The one photo everyone homes in on is an amateurish snapshot of the bikini-clad Moten standing by a swimming pool, her left hand resting on her left-leaning hips, head cocked slightly to the left, a sash with "Pakistan" falling right over her bikini bottom. The Indo-Asian News Service picks up the China Daily story, which quotes Moten as saying, "Now, there's less reproach in Pakistan on women's participation in such beauty contests."
A few days later, Reuters quotes an unnamed Pakistani official who says Moten was never authorized to represent Pakistan.
"We have asked our missions in Washington and Beijing to investigate this because it is against our policy, culture and religion," the official is quoted as saying. Other sources identify the official as Abdul Chaudhry, a higher-up in the Ministry of Culture.
A few more days later, the swimming-pool photo turns up at a meeting of Pakistan's National Assembly. According to a report in Pakistan's Daily Times, a member of the Assembly's conservative minority moved to "debate how the girl had come to claim to represent Pakistan, a move that had humiliated the entire country."
The official, Farid Piracha, "then proceeded to pass a picture of the bikini-clad 22-year-old to several of his colleagues." After the first few assembly members took a gander, the paper reports, the photo made the rounds to an official named Hakim Qari Gul Rehman.
"After drinking in Ms. Moten's sexy pose," the paper reported, "[Rehman] then let treasury member Rehana Aleem Mashehdi have a look, which she did, but only after donning her spectacles. Rehana passed the picture on to [assemblyman] Amjad Warraich, who was sitting next to her."
In an e-mail to the Houston Press, Piracha stated that Moten wasn't even a Pakistani national.
"She had no right to represent Pakistan as 'Miss Pakistan' in such a contest which was absolutely against our traditions, culture and religion," he wrote. "No Pakistani lady ever took part in such a contest, nor would Pakistani society permit such a representation."
Piracha added, "According to Islamic rules, a woman is bound to cover all her body with cloth....She wore obscene [clothing] and used the flag of Pakistan in display. In this way, she represented [the] 150 million people of Pakistan. No one had granted her permission for this obscene, unfounded and illegal representation."
But if Piracha was expecting others to share his outrage, he was S.O.L., according to the Daily Times article. No one cried for Moten's head. And since Piracha's hard-line party wasn't the majority, there wasn't much he could do.
Online pundits, however, had unlimited license to wax political about Moten's position as either the downfall of civilized Pakistani society or a hero to subjugated women everywhere.
Comments from DesPardes.com, a South Asian news site:
These pictures of [Moten] are surely an arrow straight to the Muslim Umma.
She is representing Pakistan in a totally wrong way and she should be punished for this.
It's a bold and excellent exposure....We must encourage others to come forward and take their artificial veil off while staying in this country.