Born in Nepal, Nabin Waiba grew up as a young boy who was often bullied for his “feminine” and “girly” tendencies, and was criticized by classmates and family alike for preferring women’s clothing and having mostly female friends. Several years later, Nabin, now known as Anjali Lama, is strutting down the catwalks of Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai, amongst India’s most acclaimed models. The first transgender model to grace India’s grandest fashion event, Lama marks a change in history with every step she takes.
Lama was the fifth son in a farming family in the rural district of Nuwakot. Back then, she had never even dreamed of becoming a model, and only knew that “even as a child that [she] didn’t like being a boy, wearing those clothes,” (CBS News), describing her attempts to conform to the gender stereotypes as “mental torture”. Even after she moved to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, to attend college, Lama continuously struggled with her identity and was even fired from her job working at a hotel. “They said I made the customers uncomfortable,” she told CNN. It wasn’t until she discovered the Blue Diamond Society- a support group for Nepal’s LGBTQ community- that she was able to come to terms with her identity and finally come out to her friends and family as transgender.
To further overcome her identity issues, Lama, with the encouragement of her friends, decided to consider a career in modeling. After numerous small gigs she made her first break by landing the cover of Nepali magazine Voices of Women, but still struggled to develop her career in her home country- thus deciding to try her luck in India’s fashion industry. After two failed auditions, Lama finally made the cut in December 2016 and was able to walk her first major runway in 2017.
While the appearance of a new model may not seem like much, Lama’s success is one of the many of the industry’s beginning steps to opening up to diversity and inclusivity. According to the Spring 2017 diversity report by The Fashion Spot, more than 70% of the models cast for New York, London, Paris and Milan fashion weeks were white- and that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the industry’s lack of diversity. To see the value of such steps made forward in the industry, Blueprint decided to ask Sara S. Kim (’18), the founder of the Social Justice League, a few questions.
BP: Why is it important that we see figures like Lama in industries like fashion and the media?
Sara: Positive representation of minority in mainstream pop culture and media is one of the key steps in achieving social acceptance of differences. One of the struggles that many marginalized communities face is the lack of positive role models. With the favorable spotlight given to someone like Lama, I’m sure there are many others who would gladly identify with her and be able to own their identity with pride.
BP: Have you seen Korea make similar efforts in opening its doors to the LGBTQA community?
Sara: There are many pop and amateur artists in the Korean LGBTQ community that has been trying to start interactive projects. Unfortunately, they haven’t been gaining enough, or the right kind of attention. I think that comes with persistence and moderation to a degree. Korea is definitely making this cultural progress, but what we have right now is not enough. What we could do could be as simple as being open-minded.
It is thanks to models such as Ashley Graham and Anjali Lama that society has begun to challenge the traditional perceptions of beauty regarding race, body shape, sexuality and age, and help people around the world embrace their identities. In a growingly dark world with figures like Trump who oppose racial, gender, and LGBTQA equality, we need such mark-makers to prove that there is beauty in diversity, all of which should be celebrated and respected.
-Seiyeon Park (’17)
Featured Image by Hannah Kim (’19)