“Right from my childhood, I was always inclined towards the glamour industry.” says Mona Varonica Campbell, who remembers her roots as fondly as she counts the feathers that are now in her cap. Being India’s first trans plus size model, you’d think her journey of breaking barriers was full of wringing the status quo with a lot of force and struggle. And struggle she did, but a part of the journey was also organic: “Right from my childhood, I was always inclined towards the glamour industry. I remember my days as a kid, I used to watch Fashion TV, go through magazines and so on. My terrace used to be my runway. I love the catwalk.”
“I participated in a lot of fashion shows organized by my school and colleges. I even won Miss Trans India. As the days passed, I felt Mumbai could be that city where I can fulfill my dreams of being a model. During my stay in Mumbai, I auditioned for Lakme Fashion Week and cracked it. The icing on the cake was opening the show for a renowned designer like Wendell Rodricks and I walked 3 seasons!”
There was no stopping Mona; she was determined and ready to shine. “After I became India’s first plus size trans supermodel, I saw a few opportunities opening” she says. ‘Few opportunities’ is a humble way of describing her accomplishments. Her name and face were splashed all over newspapers and magazines. She was awarded the ‘Economic Times Achievers Award’ for her groundbreaking work. Victoria’s Secret, River Island, Dove, Pinko, Marks & Spencer’s, Bulgari Hotel, Versace, Armani, Four Seasons, and Kempinsky groups are some of the brands that have benefited from attaching themselves with Mona.
What’s the secret to her clearmindednes and determination regarding what she wanted to do? Mona credits the people she surrounds herself with; “Ups and downs are always a part of one’s journey. I was fortunate enough, I got support from my parents and my sister even in those days. My family has been my core strength. My mom and sister have been instrumental in understanding my feelings and they supported me in every walk of my life. Not to forget some of my closest friends who accepted me the way I am.”
That doesn’t mean that everyone has been a friend to Mona or has helped her break the barriers she has broken; “I faced a lot of difficulties and challenges from the people whom I assumed to be friends. Especially in the glamour industry, I realised not everyone is your friend as they fake it.” she says. “I remember the days where I kept asking them for work and I knew they had a strong hold but they didn’t help. Even for LFW (Lakme Fashion Week), I was never told. The moment I figured it out myself and cracked the audition, things changed.”
Mona has broken through but it pains her to see the trans community being neglected by not just the entertainment industry but society at large. “Although there is a lot of change in the way the LQBTQ community people are treated and accepted, there is still a lot of scope for development and acceptance,” she says about the current state of affairs. “The job opportunities are very minimal. It’s only during Pride month, we folks become a subject of importance and talk. For instance, in the recent movie Gangubhai, the role of a transgender was played by a well known actor, however the could have been given to those transgenders who excel in the fieldof acting.”
It’s a well-worn question and a cliche to put the burden of it on Mona alone, but as a people, how do we do better for our trans brothers and sisters? Mona believes it starts at the very beginning, “It’s all about one’s upbringing” she says. “Parents need to teach their kids to respect and value everyone irrespective of their caste, gender or orientation. Not all the adolescents have a similar approach to people from our community. There are instances where even in big cities like Mumbai, very derogatory comments are passed whilst in small time cities, they are respected. In our education system, we need to incorporate a subject which deals with one’s orientation, love and acceptance.”
Is this area where she plans on turning her attention to next? Maybe in the future, but right now? NASA is calling! Mona says that she has just completed her project with NASA. “Being a part of NASA is a dream come true for me. Yes my life got super busy with my projects and work, hence I took a short break in modeling and social media. But NASA taught me so much in life – discipline, dedication and focus” she says about this new journey.
What’s different now after NASA and all the achievements? Has Mona changed at all? “I look at life more beautifully and lovingly now,” she says. “I am grateful for everything good and bad that happened to me. Good things are the memories to cherish for life and bad things are learning lessons of life. I feel proud of myself and my accomplishments.”
We are proud too and it’s impossible not to keep rooting for her to break more barriers and achieve everything she possibly can.