'Gorgeous' cheerleader billboards spark war of words

Thammasat University is using this billboard of 'gorgeous' cheerleaders of the past to recruit for the 2018-19 academic year. Critics have emerged. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill

Billboards with "gorgeous" head and shoulder shots of 15 former Thammasat University cheerleaders that allegedly aim to inspire students to apply to be cheerleaders this year are drawing mixed reactions from the public and netizens.

The billboards, which belong to the university's Cheerleader Club, are placed at every corner of the university's Tha Prachan and Rangsit campuses as advertisements to encourage students who want to represent the university as cheerleaders to apply in the selection process.

The photos on the billboards that went viral on the internet and social media are now receiving massive attention as public opinion about the message of the billboards is split.

Arnond Sakworawich, a lecturer in Actuarial Science at the National Institute of Development Administration (Nida), wrote on his Facebook page, asking whether it is appropriate for university students to show so much flesh.

Mr Arnond compared the head and shoulder shots to billboards he has seen on Ratchadaphisek Road in Huai Khwang.

Ratchadaphisek Road is known among tourists and nightlife-goers for its massage parlours, night clubs as well as night entertainment venues.

He also wrote on another post: "The selection of this year's TU cheerleaders has changed a lot. It's a bit too much for university students [to show their flesh], but it might be normal for a magazine cover. In terms of photography, it looks beautiful. We need to be very open-minded in this era."

Renowned mass communication academic Seri Wongmontha also commented on his Facebook account, saying "It's unbelievable that a university with the word 'dhamma' in its name would come down to this level. What a pity."

Other Facebook users also posted messages condemning the billboards.

The university's Cheerleader Club issued a statement Thursday explaining the reasoning behind the billboards.

The statement said that the billboards are part of Unicef's U-Report Thailand project, under the theme "My Body, My Opinion", which aims to encourage Thai youngsters to express what they think.

"People think cheerleaders are selected based on their outward appearance. As a result, we chose head and shoulder shots as a concept to send the message that no matter what you look like from the outside, if you are self-confident and see value in yourself, you can become a part of our team," it said.

Meanwhile, other Facebook users supported the idea, saying the recruitment campaign is an example of out-of-the-box thinking. They also urged critics to be more open-minded.

A Facebook user named Jirawat Klontaisong wrote: "I think the photos are gorgeous. This is what we call creativity. Dirty-minded people will always look at just the dirty side."

Another Facebook user, Napawuth Pookprayoon wrote: "Times change, people change, things change. I don't understand people who criticise these students.... They only show their shoulders and the top part of their chests."

Attasit Pankaew, TU's vice rector for corporate communication, said the university will support whatever choice the students make.

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