MODEL, albinism activist and lawyer. Photograph by Elsa Niemoller
Model, albinism activist and lawyer Thando Hopa entered the fashion industry in 2012 after being scouted by South African designer Gert-Johan Coetzee who used her as the face for his collection then.
A model with albinism on magazine covers and on fashion week runways was a first for South Africa. That moment was perhaps the turning point in the industry that set in motion a new wave that opened doors for diversity and inclusion in the local fashion scene.
Hopa talks to us about self-acceptance and celebrating one’s uniqueness.
What does beauty mean to you?
On a broader, cultural level, beauty is the celebration of an image or way of being. However, on a personal level, which is a level I find to be the most important, beauty is having a sense of enoughness.
You are quite outspoken and confident, was there a specific turning point for you around body image and self-acceptance?
I see my journey of body image as something that is road-mapped. I pursue self-acceptance constantly and try to build up some emotional resilience on the way. There was a time when I felt like I needed to change myself before loving myself, change into an image that appears to be more conventional.
The image of black albinism was generally unrepresented in what we chose to celebrate in our popular culture. I became self-conscious about the unique characteristics that came with my body that were quite rare and this made me feel hyper-visible, peculiar and open to speculation.
My blonde and curly, kinky hair was not black and my eyebrows were pale and not black. I viewed my difference as a flaw in my being as opposed to a variety of being.
One day, during a photo shoot, I had an honest conversation with myself about my uniqueness and from that day on, I made a conscious effort to work on representation more intentionally. I didn’t love my uniqueness immediately, it took time to learn and believe that my existence is valid just the way it is.
It’s not always easy to be a role model or a pioneer - how do you maintain a healthy self-esteem?
It’s important to develop self-awareness because self-esteem needs a maintenance plan. I usually try to keep my mind healthy in terms of what I read and who I spend time with. What I feed my mind, goes a long way in maintaining a healthy view of myself. Most of all I have a personal mantra that hums throughout my mind until it’s all I hear that is “I am enough”.
I feel that it is important to know the signs when your mind is hurt and what kind of emotional aid you need for that time. Whenever I speak in a manner that is abusive towards myself, when I am in a state of constant anxiety or when I undervalue my self-worth, I acknowledge that something triggered this and that my mind is hurt and my self-esteem is running low. Then I regroup and allow my process to kick in for me to reach a state of balance and of enoughness.
What advice do you have for people trying to carve out their own spaces in exclusive industries?
My advice is, learn to harness the value in what makes you unique, if you do, you’ll always know that you have something to offer. Position your uniqueness and your authenticity as your form of currency.
What is the best body positive message ever given to you?
You are always perfect unless you choose otherwise.
*The Beauty Revolution will take place on Saturday and Sunday (April 6 and 7) at the Sandton Convention Centre. Hopa is a Beauty Revolution ambassador and will be MC on its body positivity panel discussions over the weekend. The affair will showcase the latest trends in beauty and make-up. For more info visit: