‘Nepali society cannot tolerate a woman who openly embraces her sexuality’In an age of woke celebrities, there’s Tirsana Budhathoki—an internet sensation famous not for her work or her societal views but for being unabashedly herself.
Tirsana Budhathoki has never acted in a movie nor has she been actively covered by mainstream media. Yet people know her. They talk about her, even make fun of her, and follow her religiously on social media, particularly TikTok. She’s part of the growing culture of new-age internet celebrities in Nepal, but she’s made her mark very differently from the rest of the herd.
A former model, singer, and dancer, Budhathoki’s social media posts are deemed 'unacceptable' or 'ostentatious' by many. And she is well aware of this fact. Why then does she continue posting such content? They are vehicles of self-expression for me, she says. “I upload videos because making videos makes me happy. When I see people having a fun time because of something I do, and I see them smiling, I feel that I have done something good,” says Budhathoki.
Budhathoki’s story is one of a typical small town girl wanting to make something of herself in a city. Originally from Dhading, Budhathoki came to Kathmandu in 2011 after clearing her SLC exams. After applying for a few jobs here and there, she got an offer for a music video in 2013, which became her first step in making a career in the Nepali entertainment sector.
“I always loved dancing and singing and participated in various programmes and contests in my hometown. I just thought that I should give it a shot as it would be a new experience for me,” says Budhathoki.
Beyond her social media fame, Budhathoki leads a regular life. She is a successful entrepreneur currently living in New York, USA. She runs Tirsana Suppliers, a store where she sells Nepal-made products. But on the internet, she’s sensational, with viewers—mostly people back home—ranging in the thousands.
Her first encounter with being famous had come in 2013 itself, a little later after the release of her first song. After her debut, she received an offer for a photoshoot, which attracted quite a few eyeballs. “In the photos I was donning a cricket jersey, as there was a cricket tournament going on,” says Budhathoki. It was a “glamorous shoot” she says, something that hadn’t been published much in the papers, which was why many people talked about it.
She then tried her hand at a number of other things. She pursued a career in music, appearing in music videos as well as singing/writing various songs—from folk songs to even rap. Yet she has always been in the eyes of the media for her ‘provocative’ dressing style and her outspoken nature. Many times YouTube journalists have asked her uncomfortable questions about her personal life, sometimes even declaring her immoral and questioning her character and integrity.
“In Nepal, I was often lambasted for my choices. My YouTube channel was also blocked because many people reported it, saying that I was polluting people with my ‘indecent’ videos,” says Budhathoki, talking about a YouTube channel where she posted her songs.
Despite all the online shaming, her fame has only surged over the years. It particularly rose after she went to settle in New York, in 2017, when she started interacting more with her viewers while doing various hands-on jobs. “I was alone and far from my country. Going live and interacting with people kind of helped me to deal with homesickness,” says Budhathoki.
But it wasn’t until in 2018, when she started making TikTok videos, that her popularity rose sharply. Through the platform, more and more people got the opportunity to watch her content, making her a household name among Nepali TikTok users.
With more than 200 thousand followers, Budhathoki is one of the most popular Nepali TikTokers today. Although there are many other famous TikTokers, it's her child-like earnestness, ability to make people laugh, and her confident and unfiltered nature which makes her an interesting internet sensation.
From memes to reaction videos on YouTube to people making TikTok on her old interviews, Budhathoki has become a major part of the internet. And she doesn’t mind all the attention—even the trolls—because for her all the comments and views are signs of acceptance netizens are bestowing on her.
However, all she does is not for fame, she says. The videos are merely a means of self-expression, she insists. “If you see my videos on the Internet, I am very natural. I don’t spend time applying makeup or spend hours just to get a perfect shot,” says Budhathoki. “I just document what I am doing or feeling, and dance my heart out when I am in the mood.”
While there are people who often praise her for being an entertainer, she also regularly faces criticism for her clothing choices with people deeming it ‘provocative’. In a few of her videos, she is seen wearing revealing outfits; sometimes she is seen donning just a towel.
Budhathoki, however, is unfazed by the criticism. For her, wearing whatever clothes she likes is her personal choice and she says it is her way of embracing her sexuality. “While making videos, I don’t think twice about what I am wearing. If I am feeling comfortable in any piece of clothing, and in the mood to go live or make a TikTok video, I follow my intuition,” says Budhathoki.
But the internet can be a bully and to keep personal attacks at bay, Budhathoki has a strategy. “Whenever I see people abusing me or saying that I am a disgrace to Nepali culture, I just block them, as I don’t want to interact with such negative people. When it comes to shaming a woman, Nepali society leaves no stone unturned; the root of the problem that is the problematic mindset of the people,” says Budhathoki.
She adds that seeing hate comments isn’t surprising anymore either. “Even top Nepali female entertainers are slut-shamed for their choices. I am not surprised at all with people using the demeaning language with me,” says Budhathoki.
What’s more infuriating, she says, is how male entertainers are rarely personally attacked and blamed for “destroying the culture of Nepali society”. Budhathoki says the intrinsic patriarchal nature of Nepali society is the reason behind this hypocritical behaviour. “Nepali society cannot tolerate a woman who openly embraces her sexuality. Likewise, they can’t comprehend when they see a woman who is bold, outspoken and is comfortable in their skin ” says Budhathoki. “That’s why they make fun of me and verbally abuse me because I don’t fill their stereotypes and am unapologetic about my choices.”
In the end, whatever she does in her videos makes her happy, she says. “I feel sexy and confident when I can dance or do whatever in my videos. If people enjoy it, I appreciate it and if they don’t like it, they can stop watching,” says Budhathoki.