Racy Photos Spark Scandal at Miss Universe

Photo: Miss Universe Organization Slammed for Racy Photos: Contestants Were Delighted to Pose Topless or Covered in Body PaintFadil Berisha/The Miss Universe Organization
Miss Universe 2010 contestants, Miss Albania Angela Martini, left, and Miss Ireland Rozanna Purcell, pose in body paint for a photo shoot. Critics of the pageant wonder if perhaps this year's official photos have gone too far. The contestants vying for the crown were photographed wearing little more than bathing suits and body paint, many of them topless.

The Miss Universe Organization is in a world of controversy yet again. New official photos have surfaced featuring many of the contestants topless, covered only in body paint.

Among the racy ladies who participated in the fleshy photo shoot was a topless Rima Fakih, Miss USA herself.

The organization is standing by the pictures, which were shot in Las Vegas. "I firmly believe, as a woman and as a mom … that you can be the full package," said organization vice president of public relations Lark-Marie Anton.

She pointed out that the contestants are women with careers too, some as doctors or lawyers.

"I strongly feel that these girls are the full package," shse said. "I believe you can be sexy and smart and edgy, and I don't think those things are mutually exclusive."

SLIDESHOW: Miss Universe Photos Spark Scandal

Not everyone agrees.

"By bringing nudity into the equation, it no longer becomes a package of 'beauty and brains'," said Angie Meyer, a publicist and event planner who has worked with Miss USA contestants in the past. "Rather, this focuses it on body image. What kind of message are we sending to young girls?"

Meyer called the photographs a blatant attempt to increase pageant ratings, and criticized the Trump organization (which, along with NBC, co-owns the Miss Universe Organization) for segregating their candidates into two categories: the women willing to pose topless, and the ones who won't.

Of course pageants are no strangers to scandal. Earlier this year, the Miss USA contestants endured a similar controversy when the organization released official photos of the contestants in lingerie and smudged eyeliner.

Last year Donald Trump terminated Miss California Carrie Prejean for "continued breach of contract issues" after her own racy photos surfaced.

According to the pageant's website, Miss Universe began as a swimwear competition in 1952 and has long calimed to celebrate women who are "savvy, goal-oriented and aware" and who "display those characteristics in their everyday lives."

This pageant system includes the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA competitions, all of which fall under the umbrella of the Miss Universe Organization.

For her part Fakih, the 24-year-old current Miss USA, said she felt comfortable with the shoot because she trusts the organization-endorsed photographer, Fadil Berisha.

She said the photographers explained they wanted to try something new, artistic and modern with the photos, and they were given the option of how much or little they wanted to expose of themselves.

"Nothing looked disrespectful," she told ABCNews.com. "In my opinion this shows your beauty and does so in a way that's very artistic," she said.

The contestants-- including Miss Albania Angela Martini, 24 -- are currently in Las Vegas, where the they are busy rehearsing in preparation for the pageant, scheduled to take place on August 23.

Martini, a former lingerie model herself, enjoyed the shoot because "It's not a typical pageant picture," she said.

"It's more fashion, very modern, more 2010," she said. "I feel like we've broken the line now, and every year we can go a bit further."