ANJALI Lama, 32, may be a little older than your average aspiring catwalk model, but in a roomful of runway aspirants she clearly stands out with her razor-sharp cheekbones, wiry frame and endless legs.
At the modelling audition for Lakme Fashion Week’s (LFW) Summer/Resort 2017 edition, she fits right in, wearing the de rigueur black mini dress and doing the catwalk with practised poise. And although she is pitted against an equally beautiful bevy of female competitors, it is probably one of those rare occasions that Lama, Nepal’s first transgender model, feels like she truly fits in.
But Lama’s story hasn’t always been about fitting in. For someone who discovered at a very young age that she was transgender and finally came out to her family and the world in 2005, her life since has been more about discovering her true identity, owning it and creating a niche for herself.
Anjali Lama started a career in modelling seven years ago. It was tough… she had to fight for acceptance first for her identity as a transgender model and second as a serious professional.
The rejections and humiliation are now too many to remember; Anjali was often broken but always undefeated. Today she is recognised as the first Nepali transgender model to have also made it international.
The turning point was the Lakme India Fashion Week. She lives between Kathmandu and Mumbai and was recently covered by the coveted Elle magazine.
Born Nabin Waiba in Nuwakot, Nepal, it took years of being sniggered at and ridiculed for Lama to move away from her disapproving family and strike out on her own. “I decided early on to do and say what I think is right for me. Many people from our community continue to live double lives. But I’ve never tried to hide my identity. This is me,” she says. Her job at the Blue Diamond Society (a Kathmandu-based organisation working for sexual minorities) led to a chance encounter with filmmaker Mohan Rai, which in turn resulted in the documentary “Anjali: Living Inside Someone Else’s Skin” that was premiered in 2014.
She wears the mantle of ‘Nepal’s first transgender model’ with pride, and will be walking the ramp at one of India’s most premier fashion events come February. “Modelling just happened to me. I always wanted to be a dancer,” she says. And now she’s determined to make the most of it. “Friends told me I should attempt to conquer the international market. I took whatever little money I had made in Kathmandu and moved to Mumbai,” she recounts.
But the move hasn’t necessarily been an easy one. Lama’s first attempt at LFW participation last season didn’t meet with much success. “In hindsight, I realised that I needed to work on my dressing, make-up, facial expressions, improve my walk and learn how to pose correctly in front of the judges,” says Lama, who slowly trained herself with the help of friends and a surfeit of YouTube videos.
Today, she has signed up with a talent management agency in Mumbai and is exercising and carefully monitoring her diet in preparation for her catwalk debut. And it is not an achievement that has gone unnoticed by her estranged family, with her brothers finally reaching out to her in support. Now the dream is to become a successful model and make enough money to undergo a sex change operation. “Inside I already feel like a woman, but I want to become one in the true sense of the word,” says Lama.