Albinism: Caught Between Dark and Light

To try to remove herself from public scrutiny, Angel began taking classes online, communicating with her teacher and classmates via computer speakers. But for the naturally outgoing and gregarious teenager, it wasn't a good fit.

"I probably spend, out of 24 hours, probably 20 hours alone," she said. "If [I could] have one wish, I would say, I'd never be alone."

Along with her social life, Angel's grades were also suffering. The former A student was getting Ds.

Wanting to give public school another shot, Stillman decided on the most extreme kind of makeover -- dyeing her white hair, eyelids and eyebrows a darker color -- a somewhat controversial move in the albinism community, known as "passing," where those with albinism try to conceal their natural features.

By "passing," however, Stillman has finally made the friendships she has always dreamed about.

"They get a look on the outside and then they want to talk to me and then want to see what's on the inside and then they want to be closer friends," she said.

African-American Albino Model Takes Industry by Storm

Tall and blonde with high cheekbones, hazel eyes and full lips, Diandra Forrest, 19, would be anyone's dream girl. When she walked through the doors of the well-known modeling agency, Elite, her former agent Calvin Wilson said he couldn't take his eyes off her pictures.

"She's just very striking," Wilson said. "I remember when I first got them, I was like, 'Wow, she's just incredible.'"

But, along with all the agents' enthusiasm for Forrest's striking beauty, there was concern about her being an African-American with albinism. In an industry where everyone's looking for the next big thing, Forrest insists she's not a gimmick.

"I'm a model, but I'm not a model just because I'm albino," she said. "I have the look, the body and it's just something that I've strived for, that I've always wanted to do."

As one of four children in a close-knit, cash-strapped family in the Bronx, N.Y., many people taunted her and attacked her ethnic heritage.

"People called me 'Powder,' 'White Girl', things like that," she said. "To me, it was offensive because I'm African-American and I didn't want to be called [names] like 'Snow White' or 'White Girl' or anything because, yes, my skin is lighter, but that's not who I am."

Courtesy of Elite Models

Much like Angel, Forrest changed schools numerous times before enrolling at the private New York Institute for Special Education in the Bronx, where she met her sixth-grade teacher, Melissa Reed -- also an African-American with albinism -- who says the future model was a shy, quiet child -- too afraid to speak up.

"I said to Diandra, 'In my class you don't have to whisper. Don't worry. I won't bite.' And I was determined to make school a place where learning is fun," Reed said.

It was the start of Forrest's metamorphosis, in which her inner beauty came to match her outer beauty and she transformed from a shy girl into an outgoing and sometimes outspoken woman.

This summer, Forrest traveled to France to walk the runways during Paris fashion week. It was her first trip outside the country and the fulfillment of a lifetime dream. She's now signed with prestigious Ford Models in Paris.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Debra Messing, left, attending the premiere of Smash in New York City on Jan. 26, 2012 and right, attending the Broadway opening of Outside Mullingar on Jan. 23, 2014 in New York.
Jim Spellman/Getty Images | Bruce Glikas/Getty Images
Baby Lemur Relaxes on Mom
Jens Meyer/AP Photo
PHOTO: Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols watches the ball after connecting for his 500th career home run,April 22, 2014.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
PHOTO: Online services such as AllPaws.com help match people with the perfect pet.
Courtesy Darrell Lerner/AllPaws.com