“As a black, african, and woman with albinism, I have fought for empowerment my whole life.” – Thando Hopa
In a world determined to push forward the Westernized narrative of ideal beauty, bluntly pushing aside contrary looks, undermining their essence and beauty and powering low self-esteem, model, lawyer, and diversity activist Thando Hopa is fighting prejudice and preaching beauty in diversity, saying – YOU ARE ENOUGH.
In 2019, Vogue Portugal pulled off its groundbreaking edition featuring Hopa. The issue – first of its kind went down in the history books as the first Vogue cover to feature a woman with albinism. The idea sprung from the need to celebrate the diversity of African beauty.
Thando Hopa grew up with the right amount of love from her parents, proud parents who told her she was beautiful and not any different, however, outside her home was a different all game – she felt unaccepted by society.
“When I grew up, I grew up having parents who were absolutely wonderful, who taught me that I was beautiful all the time, but then when I went into society and I looked at the media space, I wasn’t represented with respect to what was portrayed as beautiful,” Hopa told The World’s Marco Werman. “I started developing inadequacy, as I had a relationship with society that took quite awhile for me to understand beauty in terms of me just being me and accepting that my eyebrows are pale, my eyelashes are pale, that my hair is curly and blonde as opposed to curly and black.”
Self-acceptance was a long journey for her, before arriving at this present state where she feels wholly content, accepting of her very essence, Thando Hopa delved into trying to cover her albinism before an au naturel photoshoot with Forbes changed everything.
“It was a moment in my life when I did not want to have albinism anymore. The light eyebrows and eyelashes, the blonde and curled hair made me feel peculiar. I started to change my look in order to resemble other people. And when I did it, my albinism became less evident.
“Confident. Super confident.” She explains the accompanying feeling. “And I began getting validation from my peers, as if I had finally found the perfect formula for being pretty. Time went by, I became an attorney, and then I thought I was very confident about the way I looked. Until something happened and changed everything. It was a photoshoot for Forbes, and they asked me for a natural look. I was terrified: terrified with showing my light eyebrows, my eyelashes; I was afraid of looking different again, because when I felt different, I did not feel beautiful.
So, I thought, “If I am afraid of showing me as I am, how will I eventually face it as an opportunity of representation? How can I state it is valid to be like this, if I am not OK with being like this? It was then my journey in Beauty began, by realizing I am enough. I am enough. It became a mantra. Only then I transferred part of my confidence into courage, because in the beginning I was very confident, but frankly I was confident just because I was getting validation. I needed to get to a place where I was happy with myself, whether I got validation or not.” She recalls.
Before modeling, Hopa worked as an attorney taking on sexual offense cases to protect the vulnerable, she later decided to launch her modeling career as a platform of representation. As an activist, she lends her voice advocating diversity in the fashion and beauty industries.
Hopa had to look within to find her true self – “I had to cultivate a sense of enoughness that freed me from the validation of society and what it considered beauty to be.” She says.
This would inform her life purpose, she ventured into the modeling industry to break stereotypes of what was dubbed beautiful:
“My purpose was to focus on representation and saying that the way I look is enough whether I am on a Vogue cover or not. I needed to cultivate that sense within myself in order for me to free myself from the societal norms. To be quite honest, when I saw myself on a Vogue cover, I felt more relief than happiness. Relief in that I had gone through so many battles, and a lot of the times when you’re going through all of these nuanced battles with respect to representation, when you actually get there, more than anything you just feel relief that you know what you’ve managed to do.”
In 2019, in efforts towards inclusion and diversity in the fashion industry, Hopa was called upon to grace the cover of Vogue Portugal, making her the very first woman with albinism to be on a Vogue cover.
“We are the ones we have been waiting for,” Hopa said on the release of the Vogue issue. “I’m emotional, because I see progress and get to form part of a progressive story and narrative.”
“I got to a place in my career where I appreciate every specimen of my body and knowing that wherever I go, my existence, the way it is, has always and will always be enough,” she added.
What does Beauty mean to Hopa today?
“To feel that you are enough. To feel that, in a given moment, you are enough. In Greek, the origin of the meaning of the word beauty is “being right”; in that moment what you are is perfect and you are enough. And embracing who you are: your age, your gender, everything; and thinking that everything is beautiful and enough.”
In 2018, Hopa was recognized with the 100 Women award from BBC for her diversity and inclusion advocacy, the same year she became the first Black South African woman in the iconic Pirelli Calendar.
In 2020, she became a fellow at the World Economic Forum. The South African activist has also covered Marie Claire and has featured in The Times, Forbes, Glamour, etc. Thando also starred as Artemis in the British-American miniseries, Troy: Fall of a City.
Albinism is a genetic condition that causes a person to produce little or no melanin. People with albinism often have lighter colored skin and hair than the other members of their family or ethnic group. Vision problems are also common. It primarily affects the hair, eyes, skin, and vision.