Diandra Forrest has never batted an eye when it comes to diversity. She's a born and bred New Yorker, after all, and has family members of "every shade, from the lightest to the darkest," the model and albinism awareness activist tells Refinery29.
But even though she's always been open-minded, not all the kids she grew up with were. Forrest was teased about her albinism in grade school and had to defend herself along the way (she tells us things got physical with a boy at one particularly low point). The bullying continued after Forrest decided to follow in her mother's footsteps and pursue modeling. "I had a modeling coach when I was 14 or 15. He was so mean, [and would say things] like, 'You're too odd, you will never be a model.'" It made her wonder if she was kidding herself to dream about this career, she says.
Now, the joke's on everyone who ever doubted her, because Forrest is one of the five faces of Wet n Wild's new Breaking Beauty campaign, which celebrates inclusivity and aims to focus the limelight on physical characteristics we’ve been trained to cover up, disguise, or distract from. She's the first model with albinism to land a major beauty campaign, and she appears alongside such luminaries as Valentijn de Hingh, a transgender model, DJ, and writer, and Mama Cāx, a cancer survivor and amputee activist. The campaign launches today.
Forrest always hoped to use her voice to represent individuals with albinism, but felt for a long time that there wasn't a place for her in the fashion industry, as models with albinism had always been marketed as "mythical" or "otherworldly." With that in mind, she had one goal: "To normalize what albinism was being depicted as," she says. "I wanted to do it for myself and young girls growing up."
It turns out that there was a place for Forrest, after all. "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," she says. "When agencies showed interest, it made me feel good. That coach was wrong. Agencies were very receptive, and clients were interested."
So interested, in fact, that she's appeared on the cover of Ebony magazine, was cast in a 2013 Beyoncé music video, and walked in New York Fashion Week last year (she closed Gypsy Sport cradling her daughter, Rain, in her arms). And now, of course, she's landed a huge beauty gig with a powerful message that will hopefully change the way the industry views albinism. "I always wanted to be a part of a beauty campaign, especially with a brand that celebrates diversity and uniqueness," Forrest says. "They've used models in the past that are different and are breaking the societal standards of what beauty is. I was thrilled to be partnering up with them, especially."
Another reason why it's a perfect match? Because the brand makes shades that work on Forrest's skin, no mixing and matching required. Her picks: Wet n Wild’s Mega Cushion Foundation SPF 15 in Light Ivory 106A (available December 2017 on Wet n Wild's site) and the PhotoFocus Concealer in Light Ivory 840B. "They're the perfect shades. When I showed up on set, I felt so comfortable. I'm always like, 'Will they have my shade? Will it look correct?' I always have to mix. The shade is either too dark or too pale. But Wet n Wild made me feel so beautiful."
Forrest doesn't want to lose sight of inner beauty's importance, either. Last summer, she launched and directed the Beyond My Skin Campaign, a short film meant to celebrate albinism and erase the stigma. "I wanted albino people to see a face for them, someone who can represent for them," she says. "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."
Since then, Forrest, who has nearly 137,000 followers on Instagram, gets tons of messages and social media love from fans all over the world. Lately, she's received a wave of questions from parents of children with the condition. "They want to know how they can explain it to their children and classmates, or ask what the best sunblock is," she says. Forrest couldn't be more grateful for the dialogue and the platform.
"My mom was always there to let me know that I'm beautiful no matter what," she says. "It's a feeling that has to come from inside, too. 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."