With strong stage presence and striking features, 32-year-old Anjali Lama looks at home among the sea of models at Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai.
But with every step on the runway, she is making history.
This week — as Anjali Lama — she became the first transgender model to grace the catwalk at India’s premiere fashion event.
Lama has spent the majority of her life tackling discrimination and prejudice.
As a child she was bullied at school, while at home she was pressured to conform to gender stereotypes by her father and brothers.
“I enjoyed wearing women’s clothing, and at school I mostly had female friends. The kids at school used to mock me and say ‘he’s a girl.’ Then at home, my father would scold me, asking ‘what will you do with your life?'”
At the age of 18, Lama moved to Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu, where her struggle with gender identity continued.
She describes this period now as “mental torture.”
“I was there for college but worked at a hotel and was fired because of my feminine behavior. They said I made the customers uncomfortable,” she tells CNN.
A chance encounter, however, changed everything.
“While I was living in Kathmandu, I was watching television and stumbled upon a show about transgender people. I thought to myself, ‘I’m like this too.'”
Inspired by her discovery, Lama reached out to a group of transgender people, eventually stumbling upon Blue Diamond Society — a group in Nepal which advocates for sexual minorities. “I realized I’m not the only one, this is my society,” she says.
Lama’s first foray into fashion was inspired by the very community of friends she established once she embraced her transgender identity.
They encouraged her to consider a career in modeling and overcome her identity issues.
“Coming out was a major step for me, so considering a career in modeling seemed like a long shot. But my friends insisted I try it out, and their encouragement made me feel good.”
Lama got her first major break when she was featured on the cover of a Nepali magazine called Voice of Women. Yet she still faced resistance when she tried to develop her career further.
In 2010 she was cast to walk for Nepalese designer Subexya Bhadel and made her catwalk debut. But her sights were set on going global, and walking India’s premiere fashion week became the next big step.
While she was rejected the first year she auditioned, this year, she made the cut.