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India’s First Transgender Plus-Size Model Opens Up About Her Journey To The Fashion Runway

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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.

Trapped In A Male Body

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.

Dreams – New And Old

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.

The Lucky One

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.

Plus And More

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.

The Life-Altering Moment

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!

Proud Of Her Curves

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.

Envy The Men I Date

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.

Follow Your Heart

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.’

Do you have a change story to share with us? Get in touch with us on our Facebook page. If you have a question, please visit our discussion forum.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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