By Bryan Lynn
ON THE WEB, 9 June 2017
A 21-year-old flight attendant has won the 2017 Miss Tibet pageant in India.
Tenzin Paldon competed against eight women. Pageant officials announced the winner on June 4.
“My feet aren’t touching the ground at the moment,” Paldon told VOA’s Tibetan service after the win. “I hope to inspire people to be a good role model for younger Tibetans.”
Despite the pageant’s name, neither Paldon, nor any of the other women, live in Tibet. Tibet is a partly self-ruled Himalayan area of China.
The competition was held in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala, where the Tibetan government-in-exile is based. It is also home of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s Buddhist spiritual leader.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a revolt against Chinese rule. China accuses him of trying to separate Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said he seeks greater self-rule for Tibet, not full independence.
All the pageant competitors belong to the Tibetan diaspora and most of them live in India. Tenzin Paldon is from Kollegal, a Tibetan agricultural settlement in southern India. She currently works for the Indian-based air carrier Spice Jet Airlines.
The pageant was held in several parts over three days. Judges rated the women on their looks as they appeared in swimsuits, gowns and traditional Tibetan clothes. The competitors also had to demonstrate a skill, such as singing or dancing, and answer questions on a mix of issues.
The winner received a money prize and free travel award. She is expected to make event appearances and represent Tibet in international pageants. In the past, some winners withdrew from international competitions after Chinese officials demanded that they compete as Miss Tibet-China.
Paldon gave a statement to the Tibet Post she said was meant for the Chinese government. “I wanted to say China, look at us, we are staying in another country, but we are intelligent and we are representing our country in this way,” the statement said.
She also expressed her desire for females in Tibet to be able to show the “harmony” and “peace” that exists among people there. “If the Chinese government would give us a chance to showcase our peaceful state, we would proudly do so.”
The pageant’s website said the competition is a way for Tibetan women to show the many different skills and interests they possess. It is also meant to help publicize efforts by groups attempting to improve conditions for Tibet’s people.
The pageant did not escape criticism.
Some conservative Buddhists in the Tibetan community disapproved of the women wearing swimsuits. Critics also said the competition should center on inner beauty rather than body image.
The New York-based Tibetan Feminist Collective criticized the pageant for the way it chooses winners. A statement on the group’s Facebook page said there should never be a single view of what is considered beautiful.
“Holding up skinny women with fair skin and straight noses on a pedestal holds us back as a society, although it is not limited to our particular group,” the statement said. The group added that since the physical features of Tibetans differ greatly, they should be “celebrated and embraced.”