When Reshma Quereshi was 17 years old, she was attacked by her estranged brother-in-law and two other men while walking to school in the northern Indian city of Allahabad.
They held her down and poured concentrated sulfuric acid on her face, burning her horribly, leaving her face covered in scar tissue, one eye completely obscured by it.
That was two years ago, ABC reported.
On Thursday, she opened the FTL Moda show by walking down a runway at New York Fashion Week wearing a long gown designed by Indian designer Archana Kochhar.
If Quereshi doesn’t sound like your typical model, that’s because she’s not. She’s got a lot more on her mind than clothes or makeup — namely, ending the easy access to concentrated sulfuric acid in India.
After the attacks, Quereshi received skin graft after skin graft after skin graft. Her attackers were never put in jail.
“I was only 17 at the time and my offenders are walking free today, while I have to go through life without a face,” Quereshi told People last year.
She had begun to consider suicide when she met Ria Sharma, the founder of Make Love Not Scars, according to Reuters. The organization describes itself as a nongovernment organization dedicated to helping acid attack victims regain their lives on their “own terms through recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration.”
Bharat Nayak, a representative for Make Love Not Scars, told the New York Times that in India, there are likely around 1,000 attacks each year using concentrated acid. In 2013, the Supreme Court of India ordered an end to the open sale of acid, but many say that it’s still readily available.
Almost all cases involve men attacking women, according to a 2011 study from Cornell University.
“A significant portion of attacks in India and Bangladesh,” the study added, “occur when a woman exercises decision-making power by rejecting a suitor’s marriage or love proposal.”
Attackers, it said, “aim for a woman’s face in an attempt to destroy what many members of society consider to be one of her most important assets — her beauty.”
Through the organization, Quereshi decided to help raise awareness of these attacks, and she did so in an ingenious way — by creating videos in which she offers beauty tips.
One of the videos shows her applying eyeliner to her single eye. In another, she dabs lipstick on her misshapen lips.
Each video ends the same way — with Quereshi quoting the chilling statistics and asking viewers to sign a petition to end the sale of concentrated acid.
“We wanted to create a contrast by using a topic as superficial as makeup to address a hard-hitting issue,” Sharma told People. “It was also aimed at eradicating the social stigma that plagues victims of crime in India.”
The video campaign, which uses the hashtag #EndAcidSale, has been viewed more than 1.3 million times, according to Reuters.
For all the fame she’d garnered online, Quereshi had never been outside of India. So when FTL Moda reached out to Make Love Not Scars, requesting that Quereshi walk the runway, she was overwhelmed with emotion. She began crying and buried her face in her arms.
MLNS decided to film the moment Quereshi learned she’d be going to New York. Take a look:
Later, Quereshi said she hoped her appearance at the fashion show can inspire other survivors.
“This walk was important to me because there are so many girls like me who are survivors of acid attacks, and this will give them courage,” Quereshi told the Associated Press via a translator. “And it will also go to show people who judge people based on their appearance that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover — you should look at everyone though the same eyes.”
On Thursday, the big moment came.
Quereshi faced the audience, stood up straight and paused. Then, she walked gracefully and confidently to the end of the runway, as the audience’s applause overwhelmed the pulsing dance music playing the background.
It was a special moment.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that something like this would happen to me, and that I would be coming to such a big place to walk on such a big stage,” Quereshi told the AP.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening to me,” Quereshi told Reuters via a translator. “In that moment I felt extremely happy.”