People Bullied a Woman for Her Albinism and Laughed at Her Dreams of Becoming a Model, but She Conquered the Catwalks of the World
Diandra Forrest is an African-American actress and the first model with albinism to sign a contract with a big model agency. Her amazing beauty and successful career has attracted more attention to the needs of albino people. Forrest is working to try to make her industry and society in general more inclusive for people with albinism because she knows what it’s like to live in a world where you look different from other people.
Diandra Forrest was born on October 22, 1989, in New York. The future catwalk star was born with light hair and skin and green eyes. Diandra is not the only person with albinism in her family — her younger brother has albinism, too, though her other siblings do not.
She says that she was 9 years old when she realized she had albinism. And because she grew up in a predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhood, she felt like the odd person out. Aside from having light skin and hair, Diandra suffers from nystagmus (a condition where the eyes move involuntarily back and forth).
In the streets, she was constantly followed and laughed at. The model said, “People would call me ’Casper’ and ’Snow White,’ and say, ’Why are you so white? You look weird.’” Some kids even asked her older brother if she was adopted. When Forrest went to school or took a train, people gave her weird looks and even laughed at her. She says it was incredibly hard for her to make friends at that time.
Diandra Forrest with her sister and brothers.
Diandra’s parents didn’t know anything about albinism, so they didn’t even talk to her about it. Besides, her father has very dark skin, like her older brother. Such a big difference among the family members always made people around them wonder how it was possible.
Due to the bullying she was experiencing at school, Diandra’s parents had to transfer her to the New York Institute for Special Education, where she met other kids with albinism. When she became a teenager, people’s attitude to Diandra started to change. She was regularly stopped by strangers in the streets of New York, who asked her about her appearance.
Diandra got acquainted with the modeling world at the age of 14, when she met designer Shannaine Eans. She was having a fashion show and wanted to introduce Diandra to a catwalk coach. The girl was really nervous because the room was full of beautiful girls wearing high heels. The coach chose girls, watched them walk, criticized them, and gave them advice.
Forrest was waiting for her turn, but the man didn’t even pay attention to her, which made her even more nervous. “He pulled my friend aside and was like, ’Why is she even here? This girl will never make it in fashion. I don’t want to waste my time with her.’”
Shannaine Eans kicked him out and said, “The class is over. How dare you!” And then she told Diandra, “I want you to know that there are going to be people who don’t believe in you, but you need to believe in yourself. You’re beautiful, you’re strong, and you’re going to make it. Use this to drive you.”
Several years later, when Diandra was at college, photographer Shameer Khan saw her. He admired her beauty and asked her whether she had ever considered becoming a model. Then, he took several photos of her and took her to Elite Models NY. This happened in January; by February, Forrest was already taking part in European Fashion Week.
When Diandra was 18, she officially became a model. “I got signed to a big modeling agency my first time around. That was really exciting for me, because I wasn’t sure about everything,” she said. “When agencies showed interest, it made me feel good. That coach was wrong. Agencies were very receptive, and clients were interested.”
But still, Diandra didn’t feel 100% comfortable as she traveled and worked on new campaigns and shows. When she showed up without makeup, like other models, she was told she needed to use mascara.
Diandra’s looks attracted the attention of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, V Files, and Ralph Rucci. Different magazines, such as Interview, Glamour, West End, OOB, and Portrait started writing articles about her. Diandra appeared in videos with Beyoncé and other musicians. She was featured on Tyra Banks’ show and a TEDx talk, where she shared stories about her experience growing up in the Bronx.
In summer 2016, Forrest launched and managed the Beyond My Skin campaign. As part of the campaign, she took part in a short film that was supposed to tell people more about albinism. “I wanted albino people to see a face for them, someone who can represent for them,” she said. “I wanted to give them a platform and a chance in a therapeutic way to express themselves, but also for the world to see and hear what they’ve been through. We’re human, we’re beautiful, and we need to be appreciated instead of nitpicked.”
Diandra thinks that traditional beauty standards are changing, and they are going in the right direction. Forrest says that the more models there are with different appearances, the more role-models there will be. “And I think that’s great. With my albinism, I get so many messages from people who are happy [to see me]. People are becoming a lot more open-minded and tolerant and understanding, and just, overall, better,” she said.
Forrest works with Assisting Children in Need, her project in Tanzania, fighting discrimination against people with albinism in the country.
Diandra with her mom.
Diandra said that her mom, who has always been by her side, made her understand that she’s beautiful, no matter what. The model encourages all parents to support their kids. “Uplift your children and give them self-esteem, so they’re not growing up looking for a compliment elsewhere. I plan on teaching Rain the same thing.”
At the moment, Diandra Forrest has 138,000 followers on Instagram and gets lots of positive feedback from all over the world. People ask Diandra for advice on how to explain albinism to kids and their classmates, or what type of cream to use for their own skin.
Do you know any people with albinism? What are the difficulties they have to deal with?