Interview by Cannon, Editor At Large / IRK Magazine
Photos: Lindsay Adler
A black girl in the skin of a white woman is how the supermodel Diandra Forrest has described herself. Forrest grew up in an African American family with four brothers and sisters. She and her younger brother both have Albinism and had to grow up quickly as they were confronted with double racism from a young age. Diandra remembers her older brother being asked if she was adopted and that people, even adults, would laugh at her.
Diandra Forrest always dreamed about being a model and today she works with top designers and brands including Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivien Westwood and MAC cosmetics. Her dream came true and now she is using her celebrity status to mentor and educate parents and children affected by albinism. Together with the UN, she creates awareness that in many countries persons with albinism are dehumanized and persecuted. She is the role model for children with Albinism that she hoped to have when she was young.
Have you always dreamt about becoming a model? Tell us about your earliest dreams.
I’ve always loved fashion. I would flip through magazines and watch runway shows and get so inspired. My mom would watch me strut down our apartment hallway and critique my walk. When I look at where my career has gone, I understand why my parents would tell me to dream big. My dreams stopped at runways and magazine covers, but I’ve been able to accomplish so much more.
When were you first aware that you were albino?
I was aware of my albinism at a young age. My parents didn’t know about albinism when I was born so they did a lot of research and made sure I knew about my condition. I remember the feeling of knowing my albinism made me different around the age of 5.
When were you first aware about racism?
My grandmothers, who grew up in the South and moved to New York for better opportunities, educated me on racism. I was more directly impacted by colorism. My family varies from the lightest complexion possible to the darkest shade of brown. It became a task explaining to people how we were all related. Racism has taught us to compare our skin color with lighter being more acceptable.
How did that change your outlook on the world?
It made me think that we have to do better. I’ve always seen beauty in every shade and known that we should all be accepted.
Most are not aware that in East Africa it is common for albinos to be abducted and mutilated for money. Can you touch briefly on this and elaborate on the work you do for Assisting Children in Need (ACN) to fight against discrimination in the Rwanda albino community?
Yes, unfortunately because of a lack of education, there are myths that the body parts of a person with albinism can bring a person wealth or good luck. Therefore, in many countries across Africa (mainly in rural areas), persons with albinism are severely discriminated against and at risk of being attacked. I am working closely with the NYDG Foundation’s Skins Deep program, which sponsors scholarships for persons with albinism in Rwanda. Having a proper education, skin protection, books, safe housing, and emotional support are chance at a bright future.
What do you think needs to be done in order for the government to intervene and stop superstitions of albinism and fortune?
I think the best approach would be to educate the youth on genetics and the science of albinism. It should be in their textbooks as well as followed by campaigns celebrating and normalizing the condition. I am an ambassador of a year long campaign (NYDG Colorful) where we will be traveling to different regions, educating people on albinism, and celebrating it. I hope emphasizing the beauty and normality of albinism will help dissolve these beliefs and stop attacks.
What advice can you give to those who are struggling with their condition?
I’ve been there. Very shy and withdrawn, afraid of what people will think of me, but that’s no way to live. Find your confidence and you will find your way.
How do you think modeling has helped spread awareness about the beauty of albinism?
It’s given me a platform to be seen, heard, and understood. It’s really a blessing to do what I love while having a hand in helping build the confidence of many persons with albinism around the world.