Anjali Lama, 32, is a renowned name in the Nepali modeling industry. Born in Nuwakot she was able to make headlines in national and international newspapers by becoming the first transgender model to walk the runway at Lakme Fashion Week in India. Here, with Republica’s Prasansha Rimal, she talks about her journey and struggles.
You are probably the first individual to get such exposure in the LGBTIQ community of Nepal. How does that make you feel?
I’m happy and proud of myself. I worked hard to reach where I am now. I had no intention of creating history by becoming the first transgender model to walk the ramp in the Lakme Fashion Week. I think my work and dedication made it able to change the perception of people who look at my gender identity in a negative way. I’m glad that my hard work has paid off.
How were you successful to walk the runway in Lakme Fashion Week, could you tell us more about your modeling journey?
The journey to the Lakme Fashion Week was full of obstacles. I started my modeling journey in 2009 and got the opportunity to do the cover shoot for VOW magazine. I thought this would make my modeling journey easier but later I felt that I only got to do the shoot due to my identity and not as a model. I faced a lot of rejections. I auditioned for Nepal Fashion Week thrice from 2012 to 2014 but got rejected every single time.
In 2014, I should have been selected as by that time I had had a lot of experience but even then I couldn’t make it. I didn’t lose hope and my friends encouraged me to try in international platforms. But I didn’t have money or the support of my family and the money I earned from my job was just enough for sustenance.
In 2016, I auditioned for the Lakme Fashion Week for both summer and winter terms but didn’t get selected. I thought I couldn’t and shouldn’t model anymore. I had finished all my savings. I had my own struggle in Mumbai back then. I called my networks and emailed different agencies but none of them were ready to take a chance on me.
Then I wanted to try one last time. Living with a friend in Mumbai, I watched a lot of YouTube videos of the Lakme Fashion Week to try and figure out why they weren’t selecting me. I could see that I was not confident enough and didn’t have a strong walk. So I practiced till I perfected it and became confident. When I auditioned in December 2016, I finally got selected.
What do you think of the situation of LGBTIQ rights in South Asian countries especially Nepal?
I can’t talk about other South Asian countries but the situation in India and Nepal are similar. Nepal is even more progressive, the constitution has mentioned about the rights of the LGBTIQ community and the government has even had passports issued in the third gender category. But still many improvements can be made and is to be made in the constitution.
How does your work represent your community and how do you think this will bring the issues forward?
I don’t think it is necessary to work within the same community to bring awareness among people. My identity is linked to me being a model and transgender at the same time. As I’m now in the limelight, people can now learn about my identity. Even if someone doesn’t understand what transgender means they can just Google it now, and I feel that somehow my work has changed the perception of people towards my community. It shows the world that even we can make difference if given equal opportunities. This, I think, has encouraged many people of the LGBTIQ community to work hard to achieve their dreams.
What suggestion would you give to the young generation struggling with their identities based on your personal experience?
Life is full of difficulties but don’t lose hope. You need to have your family’s support and need to learn to fight for yourself. Even if you don’t have your family’s support, fight on your own and try to bridge that gap the society has created for you. The government should also give education regarding gender and LGBTIQ rights from school level. This could eradicate the misconception of people towards the LGBTIQ community. I also believe respect is of paramount importance, and everyone should be treated equally despite their gender.