Written & Photographed by: Justin Anantawan ~ Model: Abdou Rahim King
Close your eyes and imagine yourself as your "ideal" beauty. Maybe you are 20-pounds lighter or 20-pounds heavier. Maybe your eyes are bluer; your skin tanned a shade darker. Perhaps you have been able to erase those "pesky" freckles you are so self-conscious of or draw in that six-pack you have been dreaming about having all your life (but cannot because you do not have the time to go to the gym seven days a week).
It is almost impossible to find any one who has not at some point in their life been dissatisfied with the way they look. This is because we live in a world where we have been programmed by evolution and culture to believe that some physical features are beautiful while others are ugly. If you possess the latter, you are shamed by society, your friends, your peers, your family and even yourself. Furthermore, humans are often frightened by difference, by the people who break the beauty rules, and are quick to shun them, to divert their eyes or to believe myths about these people that keep them marginalized from the rest of society. They sometimes even harm them physically.
People with albinism "break" the beauty rules. Lacking the pigmentation that colors the skin of the majority of people in the world, they look unique. However, there are those who would consider them unattractive, abnormal and therefore unworthy of the respect that would be bestowed upon so called "normal" people. Here in the Gambia, one girl with albinism told me that some people will spit underneath their clothes to ward off the "curse" of albinism when they pass a person with her skin condition. Another man with albinism told me that when he was a child, he had to fight off other children who would bully him and his albino sister because they did not accept their skin color. Our society is cruel to the rule breakers.
However, the world is changing and gradually and people are beginning to embrace the beauty of difference. Models with albinism such as Shaun Ross and Diandra Forrest, for example, are gracing the covers of magazines and walking the runways of major designers. They never would have predicted their top model success when they were being bullied at school. Here in the Gambia, I met a man who married an woman with albinism because he thought she was the most beautiful human he had ever seen. Slowly, but surely our definition of beauty is evolving and with it our perception of albinism.
In this new photo series, "Re-imagining Beauty: Albinism in the Gambia" I aim to contribute to this re-defining of beauty by photographing Gambians with albinism as fashion and beauty models. I hope upon viewing these photos that you are able to learn to accept your own beauty and appreciate your "flaws". As well, I hope to encourage you to learn more about albinism, support our cause and generate more discussions about beauty. God bless and love to you all.
For more information on how you can volunteer with or donate to the Albinism Society of the Gambia, please visit our website at www.albinismsocietygambia.com.