The Hot List 2017: Anjali Lama (Model/LGBT Activist)
The Nepali activist took the world by storm when she became the first transgender model to walk an Indian fashion runway
Anjali Lama became a viral phenomenon the moment she stepped onto the runway at Lakme Fashion Week in February 2017, but it definitely wasn’t something she was prepared for. The Nepali model had just made history by becoming the first transgender model to walk an Indian fashion runway, but had no idea how much her life was about to change. “I participated as an ordinary individual but I never imagined I would be in such limelight,” the 32-year-old model admits, adding that in the weeks following the show, she saw articles about her various global and local media outlets. “But I feel I am more responsible individual [because of it].”
Named Navin Waiba at birth, Lama grew up in a village in the Nuwakot District of Nepal and is one of seven siblings. She knew she was transgender when she was 10 years old. “I realized I was trapped in the wrong body,” she says., “My inner soul was always seeking feminine things, I was very soft in nature compared to other boys and my preference was totally different from them.” A chance encounter with Blue Diamond Society, an LGBT organization, helped her finally understand who she was and come out at the age of 23. “When I came to learn I was transgender, I decided to live my life as per my preference.”
Knowing her family wouldn’t be happy with her gender identity, Lama kept it a secret until she was outed against her will. “It was one person from my village who spotted me and shared this with my family,” she recalls. “After that I got a phone call from family members asking, ‘Is it true?’ I replied ‘yes’ and there was a minute of silence from their side and my elder brother and father told me I’d let them down and shouldn’t be in contact with them anymore.” However, Lama’s mother and sisters were extremely supportive and soon after she established herself in the modeling industry, her brothers began coming around as well.
With a tall, slim frame and bone structure to die for, modeling seemed like the most obvious career-choice, but Lama reveals she was hesitant. “It wasn’t my piece of cake at the beginning,” she says, explaining that it took a lot of convincing from colleagues and friends before she decided to give it a shot. Lama joined an agency and started her modeling career in 2008 at the age of 23.
Initially Lama faced multiple rejections because of her gender identity but refused to lie about it. Her first big break came in 2009, when Nepali publication Voice of Women featured her on the cover of their issue which explored the lives of Kathmandu’s transgender community and various assignments in Nepal followed. However, the struggle to book gigs due to her being trans continued and Lama was ready to move on; she traveled to Mumbai in 2016 to try and audition for Lakme Fashion Week, auditioning twice and getting rejected both times before finally making the cut for the Summer/Resort 2017 show. Since then, her life has been a roller coaster; CNN, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and more picked up on her story and sought her for interviews, while Elle India and L’Officiel India wanted her on their covers. Lama’s personal favorite accomplishment this year, however, was her tie-up with Levis India’s ‘I Shape My World’ project. “The campaign had five most inspirational stories from India and I was one of them which made me immensely proud.”
Also an LGBT activist—she joined the Blue Diamond Society as a volunteer in 2006—Lama explains that Nepal has seen a lot of progress in terms of the LGBT movement over the past few years. “Our constitution has provided rights to the LGBT community saying no one will be discriminated as per their sexual orientation.” The Indian law system has yet to catch up but the model says she has personally never experienced any sort of discrimination here.
As for 2018, Lama hopes to make the jump to walking foreign ramps and working with international brands and wants do it without any labels. “I am proud of who I am and my gender,” she says firmly. “But I don’t think [the label] ‘transgender model’ should stay.”