Beauty contest a big leap for Tibetan society

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

DHARMSALA, India -- The first Miss Tibet beauty contest is this week, and so far there is no money, no judges, and no public viewing or photography of the swimsuit competition.

There is plenty of controversy, however.

Only five of the original 30 entrants remain; most dropped out under pressure from family and friends. A beauty contest -- even with the swimsuit round closed to the public -- is a large leap for a society where women wear mostly ankle-length dresses and long-sleeved blouses.

Critics included Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Dalai Lama's government in exile, who said the contest violates Tibetan traditions and trivializes the Tibetan freedom struggle.

But the Tibetan Women's Association and the female deputy speaker of the exile parliament, Dolma Gyari, both favor the contest, saying it will help Tibetan women gain confidence.

"This is a way of reaching those people who might not know anything about Tibet," said contest organizer Lobsang Wangyal.

A winner will be announced Thursday, even though the competition is all but out of money after paying the contestants' expenses, including those of one woman who came from the United States.

Requests for funds from Tibet supporters Pierce Brosnan, Richard Gere and Goldie Hawn have come to nothing. Gere, in Dharmsala last week for a conference on Buddhism and science, laughed at the idea when he was approached. His charity is trying to build roads and sewage drains in Dharmsala.

Hawn said she didn't support beauty contests. Brosnan didn't reply to Wangyal's letter.

One contestant, Dolma Tsering, walked with her family for 21 days to escape Tibet in 1994. She now works for a modeling agency in New Delhi.

"Right now Tibetan women have knowledge and they have beauty but they don't have self-confidence," said Tsering. "They're scared to walk on stage and give a speech. So this is a good opportunity for the youngsters. Slowly Tibetan young women will improve and develop."

Other contestants are Tenzin Deki, who is studying metallurgical engineering in Denver; Lhakpa Dolma, a teacher in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh; Dolma Yangzom, a part-time model based in New Delhi; and Tenzin Yangkyi, a college student in Dehra Dun, India.

Since the Dalai Lama fled Tibet after a failed 1959 revolt against Chinese rule, he has been followed by more than 130,000 Tibetan refugees, most of whom settled in Dharmsala.

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