Miss Tibet wins crown for most controversial beauty pageant

Nine contestants of the Miss Tibet Pageant 2017 pose for a photo during a press conference on 30 May 2017.

Story highlights

  • Miss Tibet draws objections from exiled community, feminists and China
  • Organizer Lobsang Wangyal says its intended to empower Tibetan women

(CNN)This is no ordinary beauty contest.

There are virtually no sponsors, judges are hard to find -- and so are the participants. Moreover, it is embroiled in a hefty dose of controversy.
    Welcome to Miss Tibet.
    The 15th edition of the beauty pageant for exiled Tibetan women wrapped up on Sunday in the small town of Dharamsala in northwestern India -- home to the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of Tibetan government-in-exile.
    This year the contest saw a record number of nine participants. None of the contestants have ever been to Tibet and are part of India's 100,000-strong Tibetan community that was established 1960 after the Dalai Lama fled across the border.
    Tenzin Paldon, 21, claimed the crown in the grand finale attended by more than 3,000 people, according to organizers.
    "With this title, I will try my best to take it to an international level -- to speak up regarding my country, Tibetan causes, and culture as much as I can," she told CNN.
    Miss Tibet 2017 Tenzin Paldon poses for a photo after winning the crown on June 4, 2017.

    Culture clash

    The contest though faces controversy on multiple fronts: conservative members of the Tibetan community, and feminists object to the pageant on moral grounds, and China, which regards Tibet as an integral part of its territory and objects to winners participating in any international event.
    It's been organized by Lobsang Wangyal since 2002 with the motto "Celebrating Tibetan Women."
    He used $10,000 of his own in money to stage the event plus $1,300 raised via Generosity.com.
    This year, said Wangyal, two Tibetan businessmen living in Taiwan and US provided the cash prizes for the winner ($1,550) and runner-up ($775.)
    Wangyal told CNN many Tibetan women want to participate but are held back by Tibetan culture -- which is deeply religious and conservative.
    "[Tibetan women] think what will society have to say? Will people call me different names? Will they talk behind my back? They are so scared and they latch onto that fear," Wangyal said.
    Tibetan elders aren't happy about the contest either. They see it as a cultural betrayal to Tibetan culture an