“We currently live in a beauty drought,” writes Ella Sanders in Everything Beautiful, “This isn’t because the beauty isn’t there, but rather because our current definitions of the word are not spacious or welcoming or inclusive, and because beauty has been pressed into strange, stale shapes by people and systems do not have our best interests at their hearts—they don’t have hearts in way.”
What does it take to make your mark as a supermodel belonging to a community that has often been side-lined by mainstream society? Amid the narrowly defined ways of the world and the inching of a society that often prides itself in superficial inclusivity and non-judgment—well, it takes a lot. For every non-binary, queer or transgender model who has paved their way into the world of fashion, it has taken a ceaseless desire to change the narrative for a community that has ‘not belonged', it has taken an internal battle to finally embrace one’s own body without being clouded by popular opinion, and it has taken the courage to express themselves as they are.
We spoke to a few trans models about the experiences and challenges that shaped their journey, and what followed was a conversation that gave us a look inside their world, the reassurance of wholeheartedness, and a new perspective.
Sandra Nandeibam' tryst with challenging the status quo
“My journey as a transwoman has been transformative in many ways, including how I perceive and embrace my own body. It has taught me to love and accept myself unconditionally and celebrate my authentic self. Modelling became an empowering platform for me to showcase my individuality and challenge societal norms. Through modelling, I found a way to express myself creatively and inspire others to embrace their uniqueness. Making a mark in the industry can be challenging, especially within a society that is quick to judge. I faced many hurdles. However, I believe persistence, resilience, and staying true to myself have been instrumental in overcoming these challenges. Over time, I have realised I want to use my profession to create change, to be a positive role model, and to inspire others. I want to create spaces where queer voices are heard, where queer stories are told, and where queer individuals are given equal opportunities and visibility. I am fuelled by the love and support of my community. I am driven by the passion to challenge societal norms, promote self-acceptance, and contribute to a more inclusive world where everyone can be their authentic selves.”
Nin Kala’s exploration of the self through trauma
“You do not need pretty eyes and beautiful body or face to look good. All you need is a good heart which will keep you beautiful forever; even when you are gone. I was born and lived in Mumbai's biggest slum, Dharavi, without being raised with the right values or any emotional support. My childhood was like a rollercoaster ride for me—I was bullied, abused, and even molested. I wanted to escape it all. My mom was my biggest pillar during this time. She gave me all the freedom to explore myself. She even pushed me to pursue my dreams. I was advised to do something related to fashion because of my looks and feminine nature, and that’s what I did. I believe fashion has no gender; when I started modelling it took me a while to understand that my journey is going to be more adventurous and challenging than other stereotype models. I wanted to fit in both the male and female binary category with dignity and pride to create more awareness about non-binary identities in the fashion industry. This came with its own set of judgments. I have often been misunderstood and objectified as a ‘shemale’. But I have also got freedom to express myself through my work. I am a firm believer that we are all equal and deserve a normal life like any other person. Breaking boundaries and the stigma surrounding non-binary and trans people is what I strive for.”
Yaikhom Sushiel’s happy accident with modelling and finding beauty in compassion
“Beauty is being fearless. Beauty is compassion and truth. It transcends physical attractiveness. Anyone who’s in touch with their authentic self is beautiful to me. Modelling was never a part of the plan. But I’m glad it happened. Fashion is an all-inclusive space but it severely lacks representation. I feel it’s important to include transgender models, especially from the North East, in a way that truly represents them. I have been able to express myself creatively through modelling and it’s empowering to see yourself be able to do it. Yet, it’s easy to be profiled when you’re trans. You don’t get as many opportunities as cis people. Keeping it real goes a long way. Being a model and drag queen helps me loosen the existential dread and accept myself and all my perceived flaws. I want to see queer people and their stories and culture being celebrated without tokenising it. Most LGBTQ+ initiatives are met with backlash' society needs to move towards equality collectively.”
Tia Jamir and her flirtations with destiny
“I’ve lived my life as I was born to. I never felt differently about myself. I was always confident and as far as I remember, neither my family, relatives nor friends or in school made me feel like I’m different. I was treated like any other kid. Of course, I’ve had my fair share of insecurities. I don’t wake up and love what I see in the mirror; time taught me what loving myself means and I am at a happy place right now. Modelling was really a dream growing up and I always manifested being one. I have to admit, I didn’t start modelling to change the narrative of people around me. But as I gained more knowledge on what being a transgender in our country and society really is, I knew I had to change that perception. Being transgender doesn’t make me any less of a human. If given the opportunity, we, as a queer community can contribute a lot to the table. Things are changing but a lot needs to be done.”
Kenny Awomi and the need to develop thick skin
“Modelling came naturally to me. As a teenager when I flipped through magazines and watched model hunt shows, I thought I was meant to do this. I learnt how to pose and walk like a model at home and I always liked to experiment with fashion when I went to parties before I burst into the modelling scene. Then, through common friends, many doors started opening for me, But, it takes a lot. One has to develop thick skin. For transgender models, it’s not as easy as looking the part, getting the folio done, submitting it to agency and waiting for work to fall in their lap. Initially, I did everything that came my way, including the inclusivity campaigns which actually helped me make a mark. There are still many agencies who are apprehensive of taking transgender models or giving the name of their transgender models when clients ask for models. My vision to bring the queer community to the forefront is through awareness, education, and representation. “