Looking beneath the scars: Burnt as a baby, this acid attack survivor is now a fashion model
She is such a refreshing change from the made up, filtered, artificial faces you see today, online and off it. Anmol Rodrigues is slim, svelte, her skin is dark and her hair coloured shades of blue, her gait and body speak a very confident language. In fact, her entire persona overwhelms the eminence of an acid attack on her face when she was two months old.
But the looks are just a minute bit of the Anmol story. Behind that scar lies a strong woman who rose from the ashes to script her own life. “I was put in an orphanage as my mother died and my father was serving a prison term. I had to undergo several surgeries and my memories of my childhood are dotted with doctors and hospitals.”
Constant stares and no friends
As a child growing up in an orphanage (Shree Manav Seva Sangh) Anmol did not realise that she was different. “But, when I went to school, college, it became evident to me that I was not like the others. In school, many children would be scared of my looks. I remember my first day in college (SNDT College, Mumbai) I was so scared because everyone was openly staring at me. I could actually feel them gossiping behind my back, it was so unfriendly. I felt bad that people did not accept me only because of the way I looked and nothing else.”
With the cruelty of such isolation, Anmol became depressed and stopped going to college. “When the orphanage came to know that I was no longer going to college they took charge. They got me a tutor who changed my life’s view. It’s because of her that I can handle people’s biases and discrimination.
“She told me the story of Helen Keller and I thought that if someone with her disabilities could win the Nobel Prize why should I not be able to conquer the world ?”, she said
Anmol completed her BCA degree and soon got a job as a Math executive. “A job was very important to me. I had no one to support me and had to fend for myself. I was well qualified and felt that now I could stand on my feet.
“After two months of work I was told not to come to the office. People found my looks objectionable. And I couldn’t understand why? Why should my looks impact my ability to work? I was very well qualified and could do the job as well if not better than other people.”
Social media changes perceptions
Hurt and wounded by the unfairness of life, Anmol withdrew. “I could not find a job because of the way I looked. On a whim I put up my photo on Facebook. I know people use filters and do all they can to look good, but I refused to hide my face. This is the real me. And there is a lot more to me than just my face. Here look at it.”
The virtual world was more kind than real life. Her photo got all positive responses. “People responded by saying ‘nice pic’ and appreciated my guts to put up a real picture devoid of any filters.” And before she knew it, Anmol started getting modelling offers. “In school I was not allowed on stage because of my looks, I was always asked to do backstage work even though I was eager to act on stage. But here I got an offer to go on stage and model.”
She later got an offer to act in a film, Auntyjj , with Shabana Azmi, and several offers to promote cosmetics, fashion brands on social media. She now has 1.5 lakh followers on Instagram. “I was always interested in fashion and I am a huge fan of Priyanka Chopra. So, I would pose at home and take pictures of myself.”
On a holiday to Goa Anmol posted a pic of herself in a bikini. “I got trolled for it. People have a strange mindset. They believe that if you are an acid attack victim then you should be a ‘bechari’, you should not have a life full of all possibilities. Wearing a bikini according to them is a strict no-no for an acid attack victim. But here I was choosing to look the way I wanted, not conforming to the rules of the traditional mindset.”
Her early days were full of rejection, as a child she was confused at people’s reaction to her looks and as she grew up she was hurt by their rejection. But now she is beyond all that. Now Anmol has lessons for the so called normal looking people. “My message is love yourself, no matter whatever you may be, just be yourself.”
At a time when our looks are a magnificent obsession, when no amount of beauty aids can make one content with their looks, when beauty and youth must be got at all costs, Anmol’s beauty is stark. The beauty of acceptance. The beauty of words and deeds rather than superficial looks. Her face compels you to look beneath the scars, to look at the beauty of grit and passion that lie underneath.