Thando Hopa: Albino Model Fighting Stereotypes In South Africa

Thando Hopa, a woman living in South Africa, is fighting stereotypes by becoming possibly the first albino model in the country. And she’s doing it beautifully.

While South Africa is not as prejudiced against albinos as other African countries, her condition has been a problem for Thando. Born with an inherited depigmentation of her skin, she has faced merciless teasing, people hugging her in the street for luck, or being spat upon as a harbinger of bad luck. She hasn’t had it easy.

According to IOL, at her school, teachers thought Thando was mentally challenged, not realizing that her poor eyesight, part of being an albino, was the problem. She had to walk around wearing hats and sunscreen to protect her delicate skin.

In other African countries, albinos do suffer far more, facing discrimination, death, and having limbs cut off for bush medicine, but it is still difficult for someone born into albinism in South Africa.

Initially, Thando studied to become a lawyer and has offices in the center of Johannesburg, close to the offices where Nelson Mandela was employed as an attorney back in the 1950s.

She’s still a prosecutor but was approached on several occasions to become an albino model. She said that she never saw the benefits of becoming a model, saying that she thought it was “such a shallow profession — why would I want to do that? I am a lawyer.”

However, it was back in 2012 when she met designer Gert-Johan Coetzee, who convinced her to think differently about the issue.

“Gert came to me and asked me if I would like to do a shoot and I said I would consider it.”

“And then I spoke to my sister. And my sister said to me, ‘Don’t look at modelling as modelling. Look at it as an opportunity for you to actually change perception of albinism. Remember how you grew up. Remember how people really treated you.'”

Her initial photo shoot as an albino model showed her as being ghostly, the only make-up a vivid fuchsia lipstick and her bleached hair sculpted perfectly. The image appeared on the cover of the Forbes Life Africa back 2013.

According to Bella Naija, Hopa said that the photo was “one of the most beautiful pictures I’ve had taken,” although she wasn’t comfortable with such a bare face and almost invisible eyebrows.

She said she was much younger then and could never go out without make-up, but Thando said her confidence gradually grew to the point where she could walk around without make-up, embodying the stark and beautiful image that appeared on the magazine cover.

She described her first walk down the catwalk as an albino model as being amazing and a little terrifying.

“The dress was gorgeous – black and green. I can tell you, I have never felt so expensive in my life. But I was actually so scared because in essence that was the first time I really walked in heels. I was even saying a little prayer when I was walking, ‘God, please don’t let me fall on this catwalk!’ I was absolutely frightened.”

Luckier than most albinos, Thando Hopa grew up as the third of four children, with her youngest sibling also born with albinism. Born to a filmmaker mother and a father who was an engineer, she enjoyed a good life.

Her father apparently never missed an opportunity to tell her she was “the most beautiful little girl”.

Thando says it’s hard to look back to the days when she was so upset by the realization that she was different from other children and often ran to her father crying.

“I came crying, and I said, ‘Why am I not like other children? Everybody makes fun of me and I have to wear these stupid hats, and I always have to put on sun cream.’ And I was crying and crying.”

Her father knew how to handle her emotions, telling her how beautiful she was and that to be honest, he was also a little shocked when she was born.

Now at the age of 25, she can look back on those days and laugh. A successful prosecutor and a beautiful albino model, she now has all the confidence in the world.

[Image: Screengrab from YouTube video]