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RIGHTS CHAMPION

“I have nine birthmarks, can watch a movie and forget it in a week”

FEMINIST ADVOCATE

Kalpanee Gunawardana


PROFILED BY Savithri Rodrigo

Discrimination in any form doesn’t sit well with Kalpanee Gunawardana – it’s a cue she took from her mother who was the first feminist in her life. She learned responsibility and the value of bravery from her brother; and throughout her journey, her father has been her constant ally.

And their early influences have helped shape Kalpanee into the woman she is today. She’s an ardent advocate of accurate and unbiased media representation of women.

She was born in Galle, grew up in Colombo and studied law in Bristol in the UK. This process equipped Kalpanee with the required fundamentals to develop well-informed perspectives. Having witnessed bias in media castings firsthand, she was determined to create space to address this.

Kalpanee acted in the fashion film titled Osariya directed by Calvin Chinthaka, which garnered numerous accolades including official selection at the BAFTA Qualifying Aesthetica Short Film Festival. A natural in front of the lens, she has an impressive portfolio that includes four campaigns for Sunsilk and the Harajuku Barbie Editorial, which was picked up internationally by Cosmopolitan Malaysia 2018.

Modelling is a vehicle of expression for Kalpanee to reinforce her stance on the importance of inclusive representation in the media. She stresses the significance of having a supportive ecosystem, which is what her model management outfit named ‘the agency sri lanka’ promotes.

Kalpanee’s entrepreneurial prowess is demonstrated by her many successful business ventures that provide media and event solutions, talent management services and educational workshops. She is quite the romantic who finds love and its various expressions fascinating.

In addition, she is conscious about maintaining a good work-life balance, and enjoys walking and yoga while also ‘listening to her body.’ This simply means that if her heart craves cake occasionally, she will never say ‘No!’


ABOUT

KALPANEE

BIRTHDAY
5 April

FAMILY
Father (M. G. L. Gunawardana)
Mother (Yamuna)
Brother (Kasun)
Cats (Mushroom and Buttons)

ALMA MATERS
Musaeus College
Stafford International School
University of Bristol

HOBBIES
Cooking
Gardening
Drawing

LOVES
People
Art
Environment

PET PEEVES
Assumption that she is a ‘Mrs’
People with the flu in cinemas
Misspelling her name when it’s already there on the email

ALWAYS WANTED TO BE
A change agent

DREAM JOB
To be an innovator

ADMIRES
Her father, mother and brother

ROLE MODELS
Kimberlé Crenshaw
Vraîe Cally Balthazaar
Jad Abumrad


I grew up with Buddhism playing a large yet superficial role in my life but I’ve started exploring it deeper in the last eight years

KALPANEE’S

FAVOURITES

MUST-HAVES
Family (biological or otherwise)
Friends
My mind

DESIGNERS (GLOBAL)
Elie Saab
Sabyasachi Mukherjee
Papa Don’t Preach – by Shubhika

CLOTHES
Sustainable
Free size
Made to last

MODELS
Naomi Campbell
Ninja Singh
Tyra Banks

RETAIL CHAINS
The Body Shop
H&M
Nike

FASHION CAPITALS
New York
London
Paris

CUISINE
Japanese
Sri Lankan
Italian

HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS (SRI LANKA)
Ahangama
Ella
Yala

HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS (OVERSEAS)
Athens
London
Paris

SPORTSMEN
Kumar Sangakkara
Arjuna Ranatunga
Usain Bolt

SPORTSWOMEN
Tharjini Sivalingam
Serena Williams
Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala

WOMEN INFLUENCERS
Rihanna
Greta Thunberg
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

YOUNG LEADERS
Sharanya Sekaram
Kavindya Thennakoon
Anya Ratnayaka

CAUSES
Media representation
Women’s rights
Consumption


QUICK-FIRE ROUND

Gym or swim
Swim

Bike or hike
Both

Beach or river
Both

Yacht or ship
Yacht

Plane or train
Both

Tote or crossbody
Both

Roses or orchids
Both

Flowers or trees
Both

Birds or butterflies
Both

Ramp or photoshoot
Both

Milan or Paris
Paris

Instagram or Facebook
Instagram

Debate or oratory
Both

Book or Kindle
Book

Theatre or cinema
Both

Musical or comedy
Musical

Drama or romance
Drama

Karaoke or dance club
Dance club

Mango or papaya
Both

Q: What are the positives you’ve taken from these pandemic times?
A: I was forced to examine my reality on a much deeper level. The unequal nature of how the pandemic affected us reaffirmed my commitment to finding solutions.

Q: And how have you been keeping busy?
A: Work, advocacy, exploring diverse cuisines and my ever growing family of plant children (my plamai).

Q: Law or modelling – which gives you an adrenaline rush?
A: I have a deep respect for both disciplines.

Q: Do you remember your first modelling assignment?
A: Yes! I was part of a shoot for a boutique in Bristol for which I did my own makeup and took some photographs wearing T-shirts I liked from the store. We all went out for crepes afterwards.

Q: What has been most challenging in your modelling career?
A: Having to face rejection and discrimination was a challenge when I was modelling. But it has made me a lot stronger, and more informed about my own values and belief system.

Q: Why do you feel there isn’t adequate media representation for women?
A: The same systems that underpin inequality in our day-to-day lives affect the media. This space is largely patriarchal; it reinforces and perpetuates gender stereotypes and ideals. Beyond the conversation on women, there’s little visibility for non-cisgender or non-binary people.

Q: In what areas do you feel rampant discrimination exists?
A: Race, religion, skin colour, body type, gender and gender identity to begin with. However, this is not an exhaustive list and unfortunately, it keeps expanding as I learn more.

Q: Have you found your legal education useful in your work?
A: It has empowered me with transferable skills that range from understanding applicable law to writing up agreements.

Q: What was it like being runner-up in the Best Female Model for Supermodel International 2013?
A: The exposure provided me with a kick start and platform to start modelling in Sri Lanka.

Q: The most challenging moment you’ve faced…
A: Dealing with major depression in my early 20s. But though it was a struggle, I was able to get the help I needed – and I’m stronger for it, today. However, not everyone has the opportunity to get the help they need and this is a challenge for which we need to find solutions.

Q: Tell us about your quirkiest habit…
A: Baby talk in otherwise adult relationships.

Q: What makes you happy and sad?
A: A source of immense happiness is when people whom I root for succeed. The news in our current global context makes me sad because our world is hurting.

Q: Your biggest phobia is…
A: Needles and drawing blood.

Q: Three things no one knows about you…
A: I have nine birthmarks, can watch a movie and forget it in a week – and I make little recovery spaces for injured cockroaches.

Q: If you could meet one person in life, who would it be?
A: Lord Buddha. I grew up with Buddhism playing a large yet superficial role in my life but I’ve started exploring it deeper in the last eight years.

Q: Which era would be tops if you could travel in time?
A: I’d travel forward about 150 years. I want to know how the reality I live in will affect the world.

Q: The values you live by…
A: Perseverance, integrity and gratitude.

Q: What would you say to your 10-year-old self?
A: You are going to be okay.

Q: And what’s on your bucket list?
A: Having a small home on top of a mountain and learning to cook in Paris.

Q: Any plans for 2021?
A: Move to India for a work assignment if circumstances permit; and expand and grow my business.

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