A Woman Faced Mockery and Skepticism Due to Her Albinism, But Now She Is Rocking the World’s Catwalks
Diandra Forrest, an African-American actress, made history as the inaugural model with albinism to secure a contract with a major modeling agency. Beyond her captivating beauty and flourishing career, she has shone a spotlight on the unique challenges faced by individuals with albinism. Forrest is dedicated to fostering inclusivity in both her industry and society at large, drawing from her personal experiences of navigating a world where one’s appearance sets them apart.
Diandra Forrest entered the world on October 22, 1989, in the bustling city of New York. Even from the beginning, the future runway sensation stood out with her light hair, fair skin, and striking green eyes. Interestingly, she’s not the sole individual with albinism in her family; her younger brother shares this unique trait, while her other siblings do not.
At the age of 9, Diandra Forrest became aware of her albinism. Growing up in a predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhood, she often felt like the outlier due to her distinctive features, including light skin and hair. Additionally, she copes with nystagmus, a condition characterized by involuntary back-and-forth eye movements.
Diandra Forrest faced relentless challenges on the streets, enduring constant scrutiny and mockery. Recalling those difficult times, she shared, “People would call me ’Casper’ and ’Snow White,’ and say, ’Why are you so white? You look weird.’” The taunts went to the extent that some kids questioned her older brother about whether she was adopted. Whether at school or on public transport, Forrest encountered judgmental stares and laughter, making it exceptionally tough for her to forge connections and friendships during that period.
Diandra’s parents, unfamiliar with albinism, never broached the topic with her. The stark contrast in skin tones between her dark-skinned father and older brother, both unaffected by albinism, sparked curiosity and questions from those around them.
In response to the bullying at school, Diandra’s parents made the decision to transfer her to the New York Institute for Special Education. Here, she found solace among peers who shared her condition. As she entered her teenage years, Diandra noticed a shift in people’s attitudes toward her. Strangers in the streets of New York began stopping her regularly, intrigued by her unique appearance and eager to inquire about it.
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.”
During her college years, fate intervened when photographer Shameer Khan spotted Diandra. Captivated by her beauty, he inquired if she had ever contemplated a career in modeling. Seizing the opportunity, Khan snapped several photos of her and introduced her to Elite Models NY. This serendipitous encounter unfolded in January, and by February, Forrest found herself gracing the runways of European Fashion Week.
At the age of 18, Diandra embarked on her official journey into modeling. Reflecting on that pivotal moment, she shared, “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. When agencies showed interest, it made me feel good. That coach was wrong. Agencies were very receptive, and clients were interested.”
However, despite the success, she grappled with discomfort during her travels and work on various campaigns and shows. Even when opting for a makeup-free look like her fellow models, she encountered pressure to apply mascara, highlighting the ongoing challenges of breaking conventional norms in the industry.
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 is optimistic about the evolving landscape of beauty standards, believing they are heading in the right direction. She sees a positive shift as more models with diverse appearances emerge, providing a broader range of role models. Expressing her enthusiasm, she states, “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.”
Beyond her modeling career, Forrest is actively involved in Assisting Children in Need in Tanzania. Through this project, she combats discrimination against people with albinism in the country, using her platform to make a meaningful impact.
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.”
Currently boasting a following of 133,000 on Instagram, Diandra Forrest receives an abundance of positive feedback from a global audience. Engaging with her followers, she finds herself fielding inquiries on a range of topics, from advice on explaining albinism to children and classmates to inquiries about skincare. Diandra’s influence extends beyond the runway as she becomes a source of guidance and inspiration for those seeking understanding and connection.
Diandra was once married to Forrest Renaissance. In 2015, they welcomed their first child, a daughter named Rain. A few years later, their family expanded with the arrival of a son named Rocky. Presently, Diandra navigates the journey of motherhood as a single mom.
And here are some more marvelous women with extraordinary appearances who have rocked the runway and shattered all stereotypes.