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Beauty Queen Wants To Become Doctor

June 17, 1999

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Bangkok’s most-talked-about woman stares almost daily from a file photo on newspaper front pages _ Dr. Apisamai Srirangsan, wearing a one-piece bathing suit and a Miss Thailand ribbon draped across a shoulder.

The photograph, from the recent Miss Universe contest, has become the illustration of choice in a debate surrounding Apisamai’s wish to become a psychiatrist.

The Thai psychiatric establishment says her image would be bad for a profession where seriousness and authority are important in giving mentally troubled patients confidence. Yet the news media and feminists disagree, defending an institution they would normally ridicule.

Apisamai, 24, is as smart as she is gorgeous. She has finished medical studies at Khon Kaen University and is Thailand’s first-ever beauty queen physician.

That, for many senior psychiatrists, is the problem.

``Beauty contests in our country are closely identified with sexuality, and the contestants are viewed as sex objects,″ argues professor Nongpa-nga Limsuwan. ``A beauty queen cannot be a good psychiatrist, since patients can relate to her in an inappropriate way.″

Apisamai was accepted at Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital early this year to begin psychiatric training. Some colleagues say they would never have accepted her had they known she would be Miss Thailand.

Some say being a beauty contestant shows she is too self-loving to have the proper couch-side manner and that a patient may succumb to uncontrollable sexual urges because of the swimsuit photos.

Dr. Kasem Tantiplacheeva, president of the Psychiatrists Association of Thailand, insisted the criticism was based on principles widely held in his profession.

Apisamai is keeping quiet, heeding the advice of her manager and her supervisor at the hospital, who backs her.

But plenty have taken her side. Letters to the editor have been almost totally in her favor, accusing the association of hidebound hypocrisy.

Apisamai’s supporters say representing her country in one of the world’s top beauty contests reflects self-confidence, not narcissism.

Siriporn Scrobanech, secretary general of the Women’s Foundation, which sees beauty pageants as exploiting women, said the debate revealed a double standard.

``It is unfair for Apisamai,″ Siriporn said. ``She should not be branded for the rest of her life as a sexy girl who adores her own beauty too much. She can be something else if she has enough talent.″

Most Thai beauty queens end up as singers, models and actresses. No matter how successful they are, many Thais view them as glorified prostitutes. Although Thailand tolerates prostitution and has a world-known sex industry, respectable Thai society regards prostitutes with disdain.

Anchalee Paireerak, the host of a radio talk show, interviewed Apisamai when she won the Miss Thailand title and said she was smart and self-possessed.

``In Thai society, everyone has his own specific role,″ Anchalee commented. ``Doctors are supposed to be kind, respectful, have the look of a scholar.

``The beauty queen has an image of a sexy girl in a body-revealing costume and no brain. When two such perceptions clash, it becomes controversial.″

One top psychiatrist sees Apisamai as a plus for Thai psychiatry, which has had a shortage of doctors for many years.

Dr. Somchai Chakrabhand, deputy director general of the Department of Mental Health, noted that more medical graduates have been applying to specialize in psychiatry since Apisamai became Miss Thailand.

``We should look at the bright side,″ Somchai said. ``She is a good example and may make other medical students decide to become psychiatrists.″

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