BY: NADIA ZAIDI
Featured image of Thando Hopa courtesy of Instagram
Albinism is one of the most unrecognized and yet scorned conditions in the world. It is inherited, and occurs in all ethnic communities. Today, models like Diandra Forrest, a black-American supermodel with Albinism, are redefining what it means to be different.
Forrest is one of the first models in the West with albinism to be signed to a major modelling agency, and she is working to broaden the standards of beauty. Yet the picture is much different in countries abroad.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, people with Albinism are stigmatized, persecuted, and marginalized daily. In many parts of East Africa, people believe that the body parts of Albinos bring prosperity. Hair, nails, and limbs of those with Albinism are in high demand by witch doctors.
Therefore their lives are threatened daily, and they are as vulnerable as endangered species. They are targeted groups who are often at risk of genocide. In the 2000s, they were being hunted and killed, with their bones and blood used as “good luck charms.” The socio-economic implications are also problematic.
People with albinism are at risk of stigmatization because there is limited understanding of the condition and its prognosis. Ironically, Tanzania is one country where albinism is more prevalent. In fact, Worldwide the condition affects roughly 1 in 20,000 people, but in Tanzania, 1 in 1429 are born with Albinism.
What perpetuates their socio-economic disadvantages, apart from their different physical appearance, is that they are unable to take part of agrarian work because they are extremely sensitive to the sun and therefore cannot complete activity in rural areas. This means that people with albinism are often excluded from education.
They’re also excluded from medical care, and cannot adequately protect themselves from the sun. Over 98 per cent of Albinos die from skin cancer before they turn 40.
In the West, black models with albinism are changing the way we look at beauty. As we start to adopt more inclusive ideals surrounding beauty, it becomes more apparent that black American pop culture is one of the biggest influencers on American culture today.
Mara and Lara Bawar are twin models with Albinism who have gone viral. Other models who are changing the way we look at skin differences include: Souffrant Ralph, Shaun Ross, Breanne Rice, Thando Hopa and Sanele Xaba.
Still, beauty is quite one-dimensional. Sure, we are broadening its scope, but it remains skewed in favour of westernized, patriarchal ideas of what is attractive.
Albinism might remain a complex social issue because there isn’t much information on it. It is a congenital disorder in which there is a partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes. Despite the stark physical absence of colour, it comes with various health issues. People with albinism are susceptible to skin cancers and can have involuntary eye movements and poor vision.
Unfortunately the stigma and difficulties of albinism transcend borders. As a result, The United Nations has declared that June 13 is International Albinism Awareness Day.
Albinism may now be revered as high fashion, but this too, should come with caution. It shouldn’t be worn as a statement of accessory. It should be normalized, recognized and accepted. It shouldn’t be monetized for the profit of designers, fashion gurus, and investors.
Knowing when and how to embrace difference is as powerful as putting it on display. It’s great that albino models can be used to broaden the definition of beauty, but it must be more inclusive to lead to equity in hiring, access to resources and eliminating stigma as a whole.