By Liana Jacob
MEET the British student with albinism who is now a successful model despite being faced with extreme bullying when she was a child that left her feeling suicidal.
University student and part-time model, Joanne Dion (21), from South East London, UK, was born with albinism, a congenital condition which causes the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes.
Despite being a fearless child, her confidence curtailed during her primary school years where her peers would push her around and call her names about her condition like; ‘ghost’, ‘Casper’, ‘talcum powder’, ‘vampire’, ‘Shrek’. The bullying became so severe that she wanted to die just to avoid facing her tormentors at school.
It wasn’t until she was 14, that she started to re-evaluate her personality which prompted her to return to her previous confident attitude.
In 2016, while shopping, a photographer approached Joanne asking to take pictures of her, to which she agreed. Since then her part-time modelling career took off.
“The bullying started pretty much in pre-school and from as young as I can remember it always happened, but I wasn’t necessarily insecure in myself,” Joanne said.
“I remember being a very strong and confident child, but my confidence was challenged was when other people’s opinions started clashing with my own.
“I couldn’t see why they perceived me in a negative way and I hated myself for that very reason. I dealt with that in a negative way for the most part of my journey; I suffered from anxiety and depression.
“I remember, and still feel it sometimes when I used to cry myself to sleep and wishing not to wake up so that I don’t have to go to school the next day.
“When I was with my family, it was the best time, so I guess that’s why although at times I used to cry myself to sleep so hard and wished that I died, having that love in my family made me feel happier.
“I used to move schools a lot and I remember when I was in reception, it was very hard to come into myself because at that time I was working with a support worker, as I am partially sighted due to my albinism.
“Literally I couldn’t see where I was going and didn’t get any help at all, so not having that confidence and not having people around me obviously hurt.
“I remember specifically this one guy, he was older than me, about nine or ten; he’ll push me around, make fun of me and pull my hair for no reason and it was almost like the teacher saw it but didn’t do anything about it.
“I think schools don’t really do much in that area and that’s one thing I’m trying to get so involved in, because I want self-awareness and self-improvement.
“This needs to be a compulsory lesson in schools because knowing who you are and informing people of who they are really does help.
“In secondary school, I thought that for me to be accepted, I needed to be accepted by the popular kids so that that way, I’ll be protected because everyone looks up to them.
“I was still getting bullied in high school, but until year nine other things were going on in my life that were more severe than my condition of albinism and the way people treated me.
“I had time to discover myself, I got through those dark times when I self-harmed, I then realised ‘you are a person, you’re way more than what you thought you were’ and I guess that was the revelation.”
Joanne, who has African roots, found her voice and vowed that she would never let anyone else change what she thought about herself.
Her confidence bloomed from year eight and since then has attracted many positive comments from strangers.
“The funny thing about that time is that I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror and find one thing I liked about myself because when I was younger I was always confident,” she said.
“So, making that conscious decision of blocking out that external noise that I didn’t need, made me start that journey which I didn’t know at the time would lead me to where I am now, but it definitely did.
“I’ve seen so many things happen to people, and I still see beauty in them, so it was more important for me to see beauty in everything.
“I was in Forever 21 and this photographer asked to take pictures of me, I was at the till and moody because I couldn’t return what I wanted to return.
“He was like ‘can I take a picture of you’ and I was like ‘ok cool’. From there people started to notice me.
“People started asking to work with me to the point that I was starting to get a bit more momentum and I felt confident enough to start modelling. It just took off from there.
“It’s humbled me – it has changed me but in a great way. I had the opportunity to work with brands that I admire.
“I never thought that anyone who looks like me would ever get to work with them. That’s what I wanted to accomplish and the fact that I’m accomplishing it is crazy.
“I’m very surprised actually because in my personal life I’ve received such negative experiences from other people but when modelling I could probably count on just one hand the amount of negative feedback or comments that I’ve had.
“The main thing that got me through is that I’m more than my condition, I’m more than my looks, I’m more than the things that I’ve been through and that is where to start.
“Your physical being is going to change – I can’t be a model forever – but I want to feed my personality, skills and impact I have on this world. It’s not about how you look.”
For more information visit: www.mediadrumworld.com