1 in 20,000 people worldwide is born with a genetic condition called albinism, and you'd think people should be aware of it by now, given how easily accessible information is nowadays. However, there is still a lot of stigma around it which is especially prevalent in places where people with this condition stand out from the crowd and make heads turn for all the wrong reasons, such as Africa or Asia. In China, albinism is seen as a curse or a crippling social and economic burden, so many children never get to go to a loving home after coming into this world. A baby girl was left outside an orphanage in China around 16 years ago because she looked different and was predestined to have no future, or, at least, a very difficult one.
Luckily, when she was 3, Xueli was adopted by the Dutch Abbing family and moved to the Netherlands to live with her new mom and sister. Unique looks led Xueli to the modeling industry at the age of 11, where she got a platform to celebrate differences, raise awareness about albinism, and inspire others to embrace their natural beauty. As of today, she has been featured in Vogue and has worked with the world's greatest photographers and major brands in the fashion industry.
More info: Instagram
Albinism is an inherited genetic condition caused by the lack of melanin, the pigment formed in the skin, hair, and eyes. It occurs in all ethnic and racial groups and the levels of pigmentation can vary depending on its type. It can include various skin and vision complications, so albinos have to be extremely cautious. Xueli only has eight to ten percent vision, so her eyes are extremely sensitive to bright light. Because she can't look at the light directly, you'll notice that she is photographed with her eyes closed in most photos. Along with one of her photos on Instagram, Xueli shares about her experience:
"I hardly ever open my eyes during photoshoots, because the light is almost always too bright. When I do open my eyes, I mostly squeeze them..."
Xueli's sister, Yara, who manages her social media and occasionally photographs Xueli, told Bored Panda:
"She works as a model in order to raise awareness around albinism and to show others that people with disabilities are 'normal' as well and can perfectly participate in society."
Xueli shared her own story with BBC. She opened up about how the modeling industry is changing:
"In modelling, looking different is a blessing not a curse and it gives me a platform to raise awareness of albinism.
There are still models who are like eight foot two and skinny but now people with disabilities or differences are featured more in the media and this is great—but it should be normal. Models with albinism often get stereotyped in shoots to depict angels or ghosts and it makes me sad. Especially because it perpetuates those beliefs that endanger the lives of children with albinism in countries such as Tanzania and Malawi."
Xueli is represented by a revolutionary talent agency, Zebedee Management, which focuses on people with disabilities and visible differences. The agency is trying to change the game in the fashion, advertising, and other media industries so that their campaigns are as diverse as our society.
Zebedee Management writes on their website: "Disability has often been left out of the diversity debate, and we often receive casting calls looking for 'diversity,' but with no mention of disability. Disability seems to be the last taboo—however, we want to change this. We want it to be the norm that advertising using people with disabilities becomes commonplace."
When Xueli is not posing in front of a lens for world-class brands and photographers or conquering runways, she has many other activities to spend her time. Her sister named a few:
"Xueli mostly likes to fill her days with sports (such as climbing), crochet, and watching informative videos on YouTube. She knows many strange facts and loves to philosophize about life with other people."
Xueli is an empowering example that your differences and disabilities shouldn't cut you off from the possibilities this world can still offer.
Xueli uses modeling to talk about albinism because she refuses to accept inequality and wants to "change the world." She said to BBC:
"I want other children with albinism—or any form of disability or difference—to know they can do and be anything they want. For me, I'm different in some ways but the same in others. I love sport and climbing and I can do it as well as anyone else. People might say you can't do things but you can, just try."