#WCIW: Diandra Forrest
Captivating Beauty. Role Model. Barrier Breaker.
As diversity becomes the norm in the fashion industry, we're starting to see models of all shapes sizes, complexions, and other differences. From curvaceous to differently-abled to every skin color and type, a range of people is being represented that is more diverse than ever before.
Among those leading the way is black albino model Diandra Forrest. Born with the rare melanin deficiency on October 22nd, 1989, Forrest and her younger brother realized they were different from their other siblings at a young age. While their brothers and sisters had dark skin, hair, and eyes, they were fair in every way.
Growing up albino was challenging for Forrest and her brother. The family lived in the Bronx in NYC and, in the predominantly black neighborhood, the albino Forrest children stood out. They were often bullied for being different and found themselves constantly defending and explaining themselves. Diandra recalls that she first learned about her albinism when she was nine-years-old, but she didn’t truly embrace it until her twenties.
Diandra began modelling as a teen after being discovered by a local photographer while out shopping. She enjoyed modelling as it built her confidence despite the rejections and odd looks she received at castings from time to time. At 18 she became the first albino woman to sign with a major modeling agency, Elite.
Despite initial confusion and even contempt from casting agents, she eventually began to book jobs. Currently, her resume includes the runways of fashion legends like Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier, as well as up-and-coming brands like Gypsy Sport, cameos in Beyonce music videos, and spreads and covers of publications like Essence and Glamour.
Forrest is an activist and humanitarian, taking true delight in breaking barriers and pushing boundaries.
In 2016 she created waves, and more than a little backlash, when she carried her seven-week-old daughter in her arms down the runway of the Gypsy Sport fashion show. What should have been a beautiful, groundbreaking moment turned into a flood of hate and outrage. Many falsely assumed that Forrest had been breastfeeding her child while walking the catwalk and were shocked and disgusted by the perceived display. Ironically enough, it was this moment that received such an outcry in a season in which almost every designer sent sheer, nipple-baring pieces down the runways.
Forrest and Gypsy Sport were gobsmacked. Not only had the offense been entirely fabricated, but it seemed that Diandra was being shamed for using her breast for its intended use and not for sexuality or art. Of the incident, Forrest said, “You need to get real, it's really just a boob. Men walk around topless, and women walk around topless, and if they can do that to be sexual, we can do this for our babies. Whether we're doing it modestly or not, are covering ourselves or not, which I do. It's something we should be proud of and women should do more if they can. People are ridiculous.”
Diandra makes a point to actively celebrate her albinism, and works to be a strong role model for young people out in the world who may be struggling with albinism, or other differences that make them stand out.
She's spoken out about bullying, self-acceptance, and loving yourself just the way you are on many occasions and has even shared her own story in a TED Talk. When asked by Glamour magazine what beauty advice she would pass on to her daughter, she responded, “I would tell her what beauty really is. And what beauty is to me is a beautiful person, a beautiful soul, a spirit — a person who has good energy and who is caring and kind to other people. There's a glow about them. That's what's really important.”
Now that’s a philosophy of beauty we can all get behind.
For her unique and powerful beauty, her perseverance in the face of adversity, and her fight to move the fashion industry forward, Diandra Forrest is this week’s #WCIW.