In an interview with BBC, the Dalai Lama said that if his successor is a woman, then she must be attractive. This isn’t the first time the 14th Dalai Lama has said so. In a 2015 interview, he had said that an unattractive female Dalai Lama “will not be of much use”. When the interviewer mentioned that a lot of women will say that his statement objectifies women and it is about who you are inside, he said, “Yes, real beauty is inner beauty, that’s true. But for us human beings, appearance is of importance.” The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s comments have naturally not gone down well with women and many men. As a spiritual leader, we expect the Buddhist monk to endorse inner beauty and not further reinforce objectification of women.

KEY TAKEAWAYS: 

  • Dalai Lama has said that if he has a female successor she should be attractive.
  • In 2015 he made similar statement arguing that an unattractive female Dalai Lama won’t be of much use.
  • Dalai Lama’s statement in fact mirrors our own bias towards physical beauty.
  • Don’t beauty and attractiveness call shots, when it comes to electing women?

Dalai Lama hasn’t just endorsed the opinion that if he has a female successor, she must be attractive once. Even when he was given a chance to backtrack, he stayed firm.

It is demoralising to see one of the most revered spiritual figures give out such a sexist statement. Dalai Lama is basically saying that people will listen to any man, but for a woman to be taken seriously, she needs to be attractive. Haven’t we heard that before? These are the stereotypes that society feeds to us day in day out. In the form of advertisements for fairness creams, in grooming classes for women, and in every other household, where young girls are conditioned to take care of their appearances over everything else. It is their trump card to a better life. An attractive girl leaves a better impression. She finds a better suitor and she has better chances of getting through to people, than someone who doesn’t fit in our traditional parameters of physical beauty.

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This also makes one wonder, is Dalai Lama talking about what we want from his female successor, over what he thinks are the qualities she should have (if at all he is succeeded by a woman)? Perhaps Dalai Lama’s statement is a commentary on the obsession with physical beauty that has risen manifolds in recent times, of how we only pay attention to attractiveness, especially among women. Either way, this is a bitter pill which is hard to swallow. We must ask ourselves; do we really judge our female leaders on the basis of their looks? Is there a subconscious bias in our minds, which comes into play when we are given a choice among women leaders, prospective brides, contenders for promotion at the office, so on and so forth?

Is it possible that Dalai Lama was just making a comment about the kind of struggle his female successor will have to endure, just to be taken seriously, in a world where women who aren’t traditionally attractive have a hard time being heard?

What the Dalai Lama said is hurtful, but then we have been pinning our hopes to spiritual leaders like him for centuries, for curing the mass sexism and stereotyping in our society. This may be an indication that the solution doesn’t lie with Dalai Lama, it lies with us. Our gaze needs to be inwards, if we are looking for a change in this society. It must start within. Elect women for any profile, spiritual or political or otherwise, on the basis of their qualities and potential. Not on the basis of looks. Give women and chance to speak up, to prove their worth and to lead, irrespective of their looks. It is very easy to feel offended with what he is saying, but we can take is comment a mirror to our society and herald a change. Who knows, a female Dalai Lama may indeed be a possibility.

Picture Credits: ProgressivesToday.com

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.

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