Anjali Lama became the first transgender model to take to the Mumbai catwalk last February, when she appeared on the Lakmé Fashion Week runway. Now she has also become the first trans model to be profiled in Vogue India. Photographed by Bikramjit Bose and interviewed by Sneha Mankani, the Nepalese model features in the 11th anniversary issue.
Lama’s story is nothing short of triumphant. Born Nabin Waiba Tamang in a small village in Nepal, she speaks openly of the constant pressure she felt growing up to behave in “the right way”.
“As a child I always fantasised about wearing what girls wear, behave the way they do, be with them and try to be them. The desire never faded, but at that time I had no clue that I was ‘normal’ to feel that way.”
It wasn’t until the age of 17, while watching TV at a friend’s house, that Lama first came across a transgender person. “While others ridiculed the make-up-wearing men who behaved like women, I felt the happiest I’ve ever been,” she says.
Her first modelling experience came in 2007 when she entered a trans beauty pageant. Despite winning the Miss Charming title and appearing on the cover of a local magazine, Voice of Women, Lama struggled to get jobs. “I worked hard, kept trying and auditioning, joined an agency, only to hear that the reason for rejection, even though unsaid, was my gender.”
She applied – and was rejected – thrice from Nepal Fashion Week before she tried for Lakmé Fashion Week, India’s foremost fashion showcase. There she faced three new rounds of rejection, but just when she was ready to return to her life in Nepal, the community centre worker-turned-model found herself on the runway – and she hasn’t stopped walking since.
“You can’t be afraid to be you,” she tells Vogue India. “Those who don’t dare, don’t live. Initially, it will be very tough – but don’t let the problems scare you because beyond the hardships you get happiness like you’ve never felt before.”
Though Lama is not the first transgender model to appear in Vogue India – the American model Leyna Bloom featured in a fashion shoot in the October 2017 issue – she is the first to be profiled in this way.
“The current mood around the world is to reevaluate and bring down the barriers that we have spent centuries erecting – race, of course, but also of gender, societal codes, geography and cultures,” writes Priya Tanna in her editor’s letter.
Citing the global effect of #MeToo, the Weinstein scandal and the Cosby saga, Tanna also looks at the recent ruling of India’s Supreme Court to decriminalise homosexuality. “The four sections of this issue – Gender, Geography, Codes and Disciplines – address the sweeping changes (and change-makers) affecting our lives today,” she writes.
“This ongoing conversation needs to be carried from the world into our offices and living rooms,” says Tanna. “Can our language be more inclusive? Can we mindfully attempt to do away with stereotypes? Most importantly, can we try to ditch the labels, for ourselves and for the rest who make up our world? Can we raise children who are gender- and class-agnostic? Over to you.”
Text and photo : Vogue India