In our search for visibility and in our work towards inclusivity and diversity in the modelling industry, today we have the great pleasure of presenting you a very beautiful, unique and resilient family from Salvador-Bahia, Brazil. They have a genetic skin condition called piebaldism and they feel proud of it.
Piebaldism is a severe, persistent depigmentation of the skin from the moment of birth that creates irregular white spots throughout the body, similar to a better-known skin condition called ‘vitiligo‘. Most people with this condition also display a white “crest” of hair running through the middle of their head which, needless to say, makes them very conspicuous at any given time.
Samuel Silva, who we had the pleasure of featuring in previous editions of our blog, is the little 6-year-old Brazilian cutie pie, international model extraordinaire, who has taken the kids’ fashion world by a storm since he first appeared on the scene barely a year ago. Discovered online because of his “unique appearance” by one of the top kid modelling agencies in the world, he is now making big waves in the modelling industry based on his merit alone. His charming personality combined with his unique physical traits have gained him thousands of followers on his social media accounts and we can truly say that he is one of the most popular kids in the modelling world these days. However, the fancy life of an international model is a far cry from what most people with piebaldism are accustomed to, as they need to face struggles against prejudice and discrimination on a daily basis.
Today, in his aim to raise awareness towards his life purpose of fostering acceptance, inclusion and diversity in the modelling industry and other areas of society, Samuel is genuinely happy to bring to us, and share the spotlight with, some of his beloved piebald family members: his stunning 4-year-old cousin Gwen Stephany, his teenage cousin Filipe, his mom Nivianei and his grandmother Dona Dionisia. Three generations of strong fighters who, because of their genetic condition, have experienced different degrees of prejudice in their own skin, from stronger, in the older generations, to milder, in the younger ones.
Even though society as a whole has come a long way and we are much more open-minded about what strikes us as ‘different’ these days, people with ‘odd’ physical features still experience public scrutiny and they face a hard battle day after day. Some of them, like grandma Dona Dionisia, had the necessity during childhood to socially isolate herself and go out as little as possible (much in the same fashion as to what the world population is doing in the present time around the globe, in the face of the Coronavirus crisis, so we all know now how it feels, oddly enough). Way back then, even though Dona Dionisia has always lived in a tropical climate, whenever she went out in public she made sure to wear long skirts and long sleeve shirts in order to conceal her white marks, her piebaldism as well as dyeing her hair black to conceal her white ‘forelock’.
Now, fifty years later, she is still reluctant to put on the sleeveless dress she has been asked by the stylist to wear for the photoshoot, and only after some loving encouragement from her family members she agrees to do so. In the case of Nivianei, the mother, being her usual feisty self, she always stands her ground in the face of injustice and won’t hesitate to give anyone who dares to discriminate against her or her kids a piece of her mind. But then, fast forward to present times, and the little ones have it a bit easier these days as we are luckily experiencing different times.
With the arduous work towards awareness being done by some advocates from the modelling world and the entertainment industry, the public’s general vision is slowly starting to change in the last decade or so. Considering that in past times most people tried to blend in order to develop a sense of belonging, now, in the times of technological advancements and social media platforms, everyone wishes to stand out in the crowd. Being beautiful in this day is a synonym of being quirky, mysterious, unconventional, unique, odd… So, what better times to live in for the Silvas than the present ones?
These days when a stranger curiously asks Samuel why he has white ‘spots’ on his skin, instead of walking away as he used to, he replies, glowing, that it is because he is an international model who often walks the runways of London, Paris, São Paulo and Toronto; and only then, he’ll walk away. He finally feels empowered by his skin condition and he is proud to be who he is.
After years of feeling stigmatized, lately, the whole family feels like they are the new face of beauty and they won’t allow anyone to say otherwise. They are indeed beautiful to the core, inside and out, and very happy to be getting the positive attention they’ve always longed to have. The days of covering themselves, dyeing their hair dark and trying to keep a low profile are a thing of the past.
Even in the face of criticism, embracing who you are, the way you came into this world, with your own traits, your weaknesses and your virtues, is the key to being able to love yourself and, in turn, gain the respect and the love you deserve from others. And Samuel and his family are a prime example of this indeed. Self-acceptance and acceptance of others are one of the keys to emotional well being, and we all need a big dose of that.
Always embrace yourself, first and foremost.
Julio Sánchez Velo
Images first seen in @bazaarkids
Piebaldism: A Family Trait And A Reason To Learn To Love Oneself Crew and Clothing Credits:
Text by: Julio Sánchez Velo M.A. Ph.D. @chezvelo
Photographer: Tom Almeida @tomalmeida.staf
Stylist: Fredsonn S. Agudá @fredsonnsilvaaguda
Makeup: Eli Leite @makeupelileite
Hair: Ricky Marcell Santini @rickymarcellsantini
Adult Models: Nivianei de Jesus Purificação (mother), Dionísia de Jesus (grandmother), João Filipe Santana de Jesus (cousin)
Fashion: @katukaafricanidades, @madanegrif, @laizdemonteebrand, @docdockids_shoppingparalela, @tonsdaterrafashion, @miafiabolsas, @brincosjackies, @calvinklein, @cangurusandalias
View further posts featuring Samuel HERE.
Piebaldism: A Family Trait And A Reason To Learn To Love Oneself Photography by Tom Almeida – All Rights Reserved.
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