Durban - Social media is supposed to connect people. But the anonymity it provides can have the opposite effect. Nontobeko Mbuyazi knows how bad online bullying can get. Born with albinism, her pale skin stands out. Growing up, she realised she was different. Not that it bothered her. Even when she had to take extra care to protect herself from the sun, Mbuyazi was still perfectly comfortable in her own skin. But when she joined social media, she was unprepared for the influx of hateful comments.
"We often go on the internet and seek approval from strangers," Mbuyazi says. In her case, a number of online trolls felt the need to bring her down. "People would comment on my pictures, 'Why do you look like this? Where are your eyebrows?'" she says. Some accused her of bleaching her skin to look the way she does. Others said Mbuyazi had a disease, and that she was cursed.
At first, her self-esteem plummeted. "It made me feel horrible," she says. "I doubted myself." Until Mbuyazi realised that a lack of awareness was part of the problem. Instead of getting defensive, she's using both social media and her modelling to educate others. "I became a model because I wanted to spread awareness about albinism," Mbuyazi says.
Mbuyazi has modelled at the Durban Fashion Fair and wore designer Terrence Bray's creations at the Vodacom Durban July Invited Designer Showcase. But before her career took off, Mbuyazi had to first learn the importance of self-love. "You don't need anyone else’s approval to be happy," she says.
Mbuyazi continues to post images online. It's a deliberate choice to stand up for all those who are being bullied. And when she's not in front of the camera, the 21-year-old is busy completing her BA in Criminology and Politics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Mbuyazi is determined to remain true to herself and not let others get in the way of her journey. It's a necessary reminder that we should celebrate our differences rather than let it divide us. "Don't let anyone get under your skin," Mbuyazi says. "Wear it with pride."
* Story courtesy of Beautiful News South Africa