Is albinism the new aesthetic?
by: Terry Simelane-Mathabathe - 21 September 2017
For many years, albinism has lived under a dark cloud of stigma and superstition. And now, finally, media companies and photographers are finally starting to acknowledge people with albinism as beautiful and desirable. However, are these images truly helping or is this another kind of discrimination? We spoke to two models about the growing presence of people with albinism in popular magazines.
The popularity of albinism has made the skin condition the new cash cow in the fashion industry. Having a lack of melanin has become a desired aesthetic. Sanele expresses that albinism is now being used for content.This has made him question the motives of people who approach him for articles on albinism awareness. “I get it, I get what people are saying. You wonder whether they use albinism to shed light on the condition or is it just another tool for content.”
“I feel that it is becoming a fetish, along with vitiligo and skin conditions. Photographers are jumping on the bandwagon and taking more of these images but what are their intentions?” asks model Sanele Xaba
For model and lawyer Thando Hopa, says there has been a gradual change in how people refer to her since she started walking for Gert-Johan Coetzee. “I started seeing that people would refer to me as Thando Hopa, the albino model and that bothered me because I felt that I was being caged in a linear narrative.” She noted that a change has come in the industry. “I am now being referred to as model, lawyer, activist which I feel is more accurate.”
People with albinism have recently spoke out against the word “Albino” calling it a derogatory word. The term is often used to describe both animals and humans with the skin condition. The term albino usually reduces the person to just the condition. Saying, “person with albinism” suggests that albinism is but a part of our identity. Thando remarked that the word albino reduces people with albinism to a subspecies of human.Sanele found it irritating that he was being referred to as an “Albino model”. “I don’t see why you would describe me using a word that is derogatory.”
He warns that people with albinism should not just agree to anything just because a photographer or designer says that they want to bring awareness.
“People are making money out of this and they are not communicating with the people that they use. They are saving money by using ‘every-day people’ instead of a model would charge for the shoot.”
So how do you avoid being used as a visual fetish? Sanele usually asks photographers and brands their motives before signing on for a project. Thando remarks that it is all about the target market. She needs to know who the images are for.
The increased representation of people with albinism in the media has given models like Thando and Sanele a platform to raise awareness. Both agree that the images alone cannot count as albinism awareness but they have been given a voice to speak on the issues most affecting the community.
Sanele has done numerous talks at schools and uses his social media feeds to educate people on the different types of albinism. When asked why he does articles in the press, Sanele replied “You may not know the motives of the magazines and photographers but you never know who’s reading the articles. You could be saving a life.”
Image credit: Thando Hopa’s instagram page