Protests by Vietnamese Stymie Sales of Victoria’s Secret Buddha Bikinis
Calitoday, News Report, Compiled by Peter Micek, Posted: Apr 21, 2004
Sales of a new Victoria’s Secret swimsuit featuring Buddhist images have been halted internationally after Vietnamese Americans voiced disagreement with designs, according to Vietnamese-language media. A similar model by company OndadeMar no longer is available through its website.
One of OndadeMar’s summer 2004 styles is called the “Baby Buddha Bikini.” A new Victoria’s Secret bathing suit uses the Buddha’s image on the bikini top.
“This way of doing business offended a lot of Buddhists,” said Nam Nyugen, editor of Calitoday, a Vietnamese-language newspaper in San Jose, Calif.
The debate over the brands’ use of Buddha was partly catalyzed by the attention U.S.-based Vietnamese media have given to the matter.
Calitoday has published two articles on the controversy after readers called and wrote the companies in protest. Buddhists around the world have reacted actively to the issue, said Calitoday editor Nam Nyugen.
Customer Thuy Nyugen was quoted as saying in Calitoday, “Buddha and Buddhism signify the ultimate respect in religion and play a vital role in our everyday lives. To have Buddha, or anything associated with religion for that matter, printed on and worn to cover up private parts is the ultimate insult.”
One day after posting its articles online, Calitoday received a call from Victoria’s Secret, which is owned by the Columbus, Ohio-based Limited Brands Inc., saying sales of the “Asian Floral Tankini” bathing suits were stopped thanks in part to their protest.
OndadeMar has removed a picture from its website, Nyugen said, of a model wearing the two-piece swimsuit with Buddha’s image on the front of the bikini bottom.
To place an image of Buddha in this spot is improper, he said. “It would offend followers if you put Jesus or Muhammad on that location on a swimsuit,” he said.
It is unclear whether the OndadeMar bathing suit can still be ordered by mail through the print catalog.
Addressed to Victoria’s Secret, an email from Calitoday reader Kieu Trang reprinted by Calitoday reads: “I was really offended seeing this summer’s catalog, ‘The Hot Issue, Swim 2004, Mexico.’ There was a swimming suit with pictures of Buddha and [enlightened beings] Bodhisattvas on the tank [top].”
“I am a loyal customer of Victoria’s Secret,” Trang said, “but just seeing that makes me think differently. Pictures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are sacred things which we never use to put on clothes.”
In a letter addressed to Victoria’s Secret reprinted on Calitoday.com, Thu Dinh wrote, “I’m a big fan of your brand, but really disappointed to see your new bikini collections with Buddha pictures. Something very sacred should not be used inappropriately like that.”
Emails have been circulating in San Jose’s large Vietnamese community calling for a boycott of the clothing companies, said Minh Do, a Vietnamese lawyer in the area.
“It reminds me of Abercrombie and Fitch,” Do said.
That clothing company came under fire for shirts that read “Two Wongs Can Make It White” and included caricatures of people with slanted eyes doing the wash.
A caption in the Victoria’s Secret summer 2004 catalog next to the “Tankini” swimsuit mentions reaching nirvana, said Minh Do. Nirvana is an enlightened state of being in the Buddhist religion.
“Give me a break!” he says, referring to the suggestion that nirvana can be reached through clothing. “How shallow can you get?”
It is not a matter of being politically correct, Do says. “It’s just a matter of respect.”
Do was glad to see the pictures were removed from the Victoria’s Secret website. “The Vietnamese do have a little bit of muscle,” he said.
His community, Do says, is slightly more sensitive to such cultural issues than other Asian groups, possibly because they are more recent immigrants to the United States. Hopefully, he said, the pictures were taken down from the websites for reasons of social responsibility, rather than the companies’ concern for the bottom line.
“I read some of the responses (from Victoria’s Secret),” he said, referring to the company’s answers to emails appearing on Calitoday.com. “They were not apologetic.”
Victoria’s Secret did not return a call for comment. Calls to an OndadeMar number in Miami were not answered.
Ditch the Fitch