When an angry mother threatened to sue an apparel company for using cleavage-baring pictures of her daughter in advertisements last year, the blogosphere was immediately rife with accusations that she had done it to make her daughter famous.

Whether or not that was the ploy behind raising a scene around the 15- year-old’s low-cut shirt, one thing is true in modern Vietnam: if there are sexy pictures of you on the internet, you’ll be famous.

The rising tide of what young Vietnamese and media outlets call “hot girls” and “hot boys,” is more visible every day.

Earlier last month, singer turned actress Minh Hang said she was “shocked” when she heard that private photos of her in revealing lingerie had been leaked on the Internet.

The popular star of recent blockbuster “Giai cuu than chet/Hot Kiss 2” said her camera had been stolen from her office, but she did not sue the offender, leading critics to cry fraud and say she had leaked the images for PR purposes.

But the scandal hasn’t hindered the 22-year-old’s landing of a leading role in the drama “Ngoi nha hanh phuc/Vietnamese Full House“, now in production.

These, and other similar instances, do lend credence to cynics’ speculation that scandals facilitate some careers.

Vietnam’s Paris Hilton

Internet sensation Thuy Top gained stardom recently, merely for modeling for two photo shoots, titled Sexy Sunshine and Boxing Girl, that she posted on her previously un-read blog. Before, she was just a nobody with a friend who was a photographer. Now she’s a bona-fide celebrity-blogarista, making appearances all over television and the media.

It’s hard to argue that Thuy Top would have had any of her wildly-lucrative advertising and acting success recently had it not been for the cleavage she exposed in the sexy shoots.

“She’s like a Vietnamese version of Paris Hilton. You may or may not like her but she’s started something that really interests people,” says Minh Ngoc, a student at Hanoi National University.

“She’s making a great living off of fame alone: she’s not even a professional model, singer or actress,” Ngoc sighed. “She’s in the papers and attends awards ceremonies… people photograph her wherever she goes but nobody knows why she’s rising so fast and becoming so famous.”

The success story of Thuy Top has inspired thousands of young local girls with dreams of stardom to post revealing pictures of themselves on the internet.

“If you read newspapers, especially internet media, you’ll see more and more ‘hot girls’ and ‘hot boys’ appearing every day,” says Miss Hot V Teen 2007 Dang Thi My Dung, nicknamed Midu. “There are so many new faces that readers can’t really remember them all. We actually can’t tell who is who.”

But many fear the trend is chipping away at longstanding cultural values.

“I’m so worried about the kids,” says anxious parent Diep Thi Thanh Thuy, mother of two teenagers, 14 and 17 years old.

“We parents can’t watch them all the time while the internet and the media never stop throwing terrible images at them, supporting materialism and superficial beauty.”

Media gives the green light

Film censors have certainly become much more lenient in recent years than they were 15-20 years ago, when even a sliver of female skin or curves was cut out of films. Nowadays, full sex scenes play in cinemas across the country.

Female roles in Vietnamese films are getting far more sensual.

Actress Le Kieu Nhu, who first gained notoriety for her sexy role in “Chuong reo la ban/Fire when the bell tolls” two years ago, is now playing a mistress in “Buoc chan hoan vu/Steps to Paradise”.

Actress Phi Thanh Van, known as nguoi dep dao keo, the Plastic Surgery Queen, appears scantily clad so often that people were shocked to see her in a traditional ao dai dress when she played a high school principle in “Nhung Thien Than Ao Trang/White Shirted Angels.”

“TV and filmmakers nowadays are becoming more interested in only giving roles to those who have earned the ‘hot girl’ title, regardless of their abilities,” says actor Minh Tiep (from “Lap Trinh Cho Trai Tim”).

“Directors should think twice about that. And the ‘hot girls’ should also think about what kind of artist they want to be and how to respect themselves.”

Tiep also thinks that Thuy Top shouldn’t have taken her recent role in the TV series “Di qua bong toi/Crossing the Darkness.”

“There are good reasons why actors have to study their craft for at least four years in university before becoming professional. Foreign filmmakers spend years seeking the right actors and actresses for their films,” he said.

“Actress Hai Yen is an example, she had been through a lot of professional training before she landed a part in ‘The Quiet American.’”

Hot or not?

Miss Vietnam 2006 Mai Phuong Thuy has her own criteria for a real “hot girl.”

“You’ve got to transfer your gifts to the community in a positive way. Many people have misunderstood that basic criterion. Beauty is just one factor.”

Miss Teen 2008 Hanh Sino says personality is the key.

“I think a ‘hot girl’ must have an outstanding, distinctive personality. It could be her talents or her achievements,” says the 19-year-old acting student at Ho Chi Minh City College of Stage and Cinema.

Miss Audition Quynh Nga, who recently starred in “Lap trinh cho trai tim/Programming the heart”, agrees: “There are many beautiful girls who don’t know how to look beautiful and there are also many ‘hot girls’ who never stop learning and expanding their minds. I don’t want to be call a ‘hot girl’ or ‘Barbie girl.’ A catchy look, a smart mind, and a kind soul are all I need.”

From VietNamNet