In a society that boxes people into categories – thin/fat, male/female etc., Mona Varonica Campbell has broken not one but two stereotypes. She is India’s first transgender and a plus-size model. Love Matters spoke to Mona about the ‘curves’ in her path.
I was born a male and was brought up as one by my parents, even though every now and then they indulged my dressing up as a girl. I was 16 when I decided to stop living the lie my birth had imposed on me. I underwent a hormone replacement surgery (HRT) to switch from my assigned gender.
Born in a typical south Indian family, it was not easy for my father to accept his ‘new’ daughter. At first, he also took me to a psychologist to get my mental health checked. However, my mother and sister stood by me and supported my decision to make the change.
My father also wanted me, Adapala Mohan Naidu (my birth name), to become a doctor. I broke his heart again when I decided to pursue fashion and not medicine. I joined National Institute of Fashion Technology and then launched my own makeup label.
After completing my graduation, I felt more and more comfortable with my new gender identity. This is when my father also adapted to the change and began supporting me. I too wanted to make my father proud and decided to take up doctoral studies in business administration. I can’t wait for the day when he will see a doctor before my name.
I am very lucky because I have got great support, not only at home but also from my friends. We are from a healthy, wealthy and independent family. With strong support from my family, I also pursued a postgraduate degree from London School of Fashion.
I was also fortunate to have enough money for surgery in Canada, where the post-operative care for HRT is much better than in India.
Post HRT, I lived in Canada for some time. The medicines and the surgery led to weight gain. However, I did not let that affect me negatively and continued working with fashion brands.
I established myself as a professional make-up artist. During this period, I also got an opportunity to walk at fashion shows for local brands in Canada that wanted plus-size models for their lines.
I returned to India after a few years and opened my own make-up studio working with many celebrities.
With a very happy coincidence, soon after my return, Lakme Fashion Week started accepting applications from transgender models for their shows, I had loved walking the ramp in Canada and had had a thing for high heels since childhood. What could have been more fun than getting paid for it!
I also wanted to be a changemaker, pioneering plus size modelling in India. I auditioned for the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) and got selected as one of the finalists for the LFW in Mumbai in 2017. And guess what I got to open the show for designer Wendell Rodricks!
When we think of fashion, we always picture size zero models strutting their stuff on the ramp. But the fashion world accepted not only my curves but also my gender identity. Being a transgender and an overweight person actually worked in my favour, opening doors for me, as the fashion industry aspired to bring about the much-needed change.
In fact, my path would have probably been a bit more difficult had I been a thin woman, as thousands of women try their luck in the industry every year.
Dating for me is as normal and easy as it is for everyone else. I have never had any difficulty finding men. I always have choices, and a lot of people would envy the kind of men I go on a date with.
I am really lucky to have never faced any sexual harassment but that’s not true for everyone. I had a lot of my support from my family and friends, which is the biggest factor when someone wants to follow their heart and break the norms of the society. My advice to anyone who wants to make a switch: ‘Believe in yourself. Be who you are. Express yourself and fear no one.’