Mocked for being effeminate as a boy, mocked for being too old to model, mocked for not giving up the quest to become her own person. And yet, Anjali Lama stands head held high, against all those who tried dictating, predicting and obstructing her life course.
She sits, pretty and poised, in the lobby of the resort she checked into for the photo shoot. Immaculate even after a half past nine, Anjali Lama gets up to greet the team, tall and slender at 5’9”, making most of us feel short and plump. There was a radiant positivity about her. There was the warmth in her personality, maybe it was the hug she gave or her honest smile or maybe just the fact that she was more real than most people we met. We all move in for dinner and she orders herself some fish and rice. Her husky voice is the only giveaway of the gender that she has long relinquished. It’s only been a few months since Anjali first walked the ramp during the Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) in February and her life has changed, as she knew it.
But, like most things in life, the fame and the change, came at a price.
Mockery has become a part of Anjali’s life. And so has rejection. But, the girl who was born Nabin Waiba Tamang, never let the words get to her. She was bruised but never battered. “Every time someone would make fun of me for my effeminate ways or my fondness for dressing up as a girl, I would build a wall around me,” Anjali says. “Every time someone made fun of my effeminate ways or my fondness for dressing up as a girl, I’d build a wall around myself,” Anjali says. Ostracised by her own family, with just her mother by her side, the first Nepalese transgender model also became the first to walk a ramp as the world watched gobsmacked. Her swift evolution from a showstopper at the #TagFree show at LFW to walking alongside others as just another model — and not as a transgender — has been a triumph for her and others like her. “The journey has been painstakingly long, but success makes it worth every agony,” the girl from the hilly district of Nuwakot says. She wishes her mother were there to see the happy times. “She passed away too soon.”
Her friends and fellow members of the Blue Diamond Society of Nepal, which took her under its wing, root for her. She longs for her father and brothers to come around. “Things are better than before. They speak to me over the phone. But my father still fails to understand what went wrong.” Her father, who wished for a daughter after having three sons, wished her away when she came out as a transgender. But, fortunately for her, she isn’t the sort of person who believes in looking back with regret. Her eyes are set on the future as she marches on. In that journey, which can at times be a lonely one, her partner accompanies her.
Anjali coyly admits that she is in love with someone, and this special person dotes on her, protects her and pampers her. “I am happy to be accepted and loved for who I am. But for now, I am focused on my career.
And we both are on the same page with that,” she says.
Acceptance from others has eluded her for the most part of her life. She now takes everything with a pinch of salt. “If I was born a girl, I would have been in some village bearing children,” Anjali points out. If it weren’t for her hurt family and confused society, Nabin would have never moved to Kathmandu, or met others who were like him. He would have never tried harder to do better every time he was abused for being different. He would have never become who he is today: Anjali Lama.
If it hadn’t been for all those people who were waiting for her to fail, Anjali might never have existed in the outside word and Nabin Waiba Tamang would have been forced to live on with a lie. Her modeling career began in 2009. A year later, she underwent breast implant surgery. “My family got to know after I started modeling and appeared on Voice of a Woman magazine as a cover girl. That door was shut and I had nowhere to go. I had nothing left to lose,” Anjali says. She, it seems, has managed to find a silver lining to every dark cloud. Whenever she feels depleted she recalls what one of her teachers told her once: ‘It’s okay if you do not get what you want easily. If you did you would never really value it.’
But, the longer it took for her to make her breakthrough — having been rejected thrice for the Nepal Fashion Week and twice for LFW — the harder it got for her to keep on going. “I was above 25 and nowhere close to my dreams. It was a race against time,” Anjali says. Today, at 32, she is as gorgeous as ever. We could not help but gawk at her almost flawless complexion and slender figure. Anjali laughs and says the good physique is genetic, after all she comes from a farming family. And there we were thinking she must have some diet regime, the sort where you skip eating most of your meal. “Oh, I skip rope a lot,” she adds, as an afterthought.
Once we are back in the room for fittings, she tells us how she is trying to grab onto every opportunity that comes her way, through talent agency, that believed in her when no one else did. She is very glad that people everywhere are breaking limitations and remolding perceptions in the modeling world. There are supermodels in their 40s walking the ramp in other parts of the world. India as well, has successful models in their 30s. A beautiful and pregnant Carol Gracias made a stunner of a showstopper. She, too, wants to model for as long as she so desires. Is Anjali making up for lost time? “I don’t dwell on the past. I don’t believe in asking myself, ‘what if’. I am working on a future that will give me my due. What’s in the past, should stay in the past,” Anjali says, as she swiftly slips in and out of a barrage of apparel, shoes and accessories. Now, that’s what we call a delicious recipe to living life regret-free.
Anjali is not alone, at least not in the modeling world. Transgender models Casil Macarthur, Avie Acosta and Stav Strashkon have made their mark walking the runways of the New York Fashion Week, and so has Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio at the São Paulo Fashion Week. “It is refreshing to see models, who have come out and expressed their sexuality, living liberated lives. Anjali aspires to walk the international ramps one day. “Anjali has a distinctive look that lends a strong character to our designs when she wears them. She portrays the image of today’s woman — confident and independent,” designer Anita Dongre says. Designer Amit Aggarwal thinks she has beautiful features and most importantly a very positive personality. “It takes a lot of courage to be who you want to be. With every step on the runway, she is making history,” Amit says.
Has the fashion world become more inclusive than before in regards to gender, skin tone and age factor, we ask. “Yes and rightly so. Discrimination of any kind in any industry simply holds it back,” says Anita. Amit seconds it. “I do believe we have broadened our views in this aspect. I think it is an individual’s identity and personality that makes them. It is not their gender or the skin tone is inconsequential,” Amit adds.
As we finalise on the looks for the following day, she asks naively, “Whether I continue to walk the ramps for another ten years or not, I will always be the first Nepalese transgender model to make it, won’t I?” She most certainly will! Anjali is hopeful that her story will help aspiring models from the LGBTQ community to realise that every dream is worth chasing. Being a transgender model is the ultimate sign of non-conformity but, Anjali wants to stay away from any kind of tokenism. She wants her work to speak for itself.
Thanks to the steady flow of assignments, Anjali is not under water but, gender reassignment surgery, which will cost thousands of dollars, is still a dream, soon to be realised we hope.
A 32-year-old transgender model, not fluent in English, living in Maximum City, trying to make her life and career a success, it all seems a star-crossed proposition. Yet, the world is readying itself to make a star of Anjali. The naysayers are taking a back seat as she readies herself for her next catwalk. The show, ladies, gentlemen and others, is about to begin.