Xueli Abbing was left abandoned outside of an orphanage when she was a baby, her birth parents disappearing without a trace. Today, the 16-year-old has become a star model with an ambitious dream — she wants to change the world.
For over three decades, thousands of babies in China were abandoned by their birth parents due to the country’s one-child policy — Xueli Abbing was one of them.
Named ‘Xue’ meaning snow and ‘Li’ for beautiful by staff at the orphanage, Abbing was born with albinism, a genetic disorder that causes a reduced amount of pigment melanin — or no melanin at all — and can result in pale skin, hair, and eyes.
Despite the hardships she faced from a young age, Abbing was adopted by a family in the Netherlands when she was three. At age 11, she was invited by a Hong Kong designer to model for a photoshoot that aimed to portray different forms of beauty.
“She called the campaign ‘perfect imperfections’ and asked if I wanted to join her fashion show in Hong Kong,” Abbing told the BBC. “That was an amazing experience.”
People with albinism can face severe discrimination across the world. Some are even hunted and killed for the false belief that their bones can be used for medicine. “I’m lucky I was only abandoned,” Abbing said.
Models with albinism also face stereotypes and are often depicted as angels or ghosts in photoshoots and campaigns. “Especially because it perpetuates those beliefs that endanger the lives of children with albinism in countries such as Tanzania and Malawi,” Abbing told the BBC. “It makes me sad.”
But Abbing managed to find a photographer in London who was respectful, and the photos were so incredible that one was sold to Vogue Italia for its June 2019 issue.
“At the time, I didn’t know what an important magazine it was and it took me a while to realize why people got so excited about it,” she said.
Photoshoots are particularly difficult for Abbing, who only has 8 to 10% vision and can’t look directly at flashes as it hurts her eyes. But she models anyway, as she likes being able to show a different kind of beauty than typically shown.
“There are still models who are like eight foot two and skinny but now people with disabilities or differences are featured more in the media and this is great – but it should be normal,” she told the BBC.
She also manages to find a silver lining in her lack of sight.
“Maybe because I cannot see everything properly I focus more on people’s voices and what they have to say,” she said. “So their inner beauty is more important to me.”
Even though she is still a teenager, Abbing is wise beyond her years. She wants to use her platform to show others that her health condition cannot stop her.
“I want to use modeling to talk about albinism and say it’s a genetic disorder, it’s not a curse,” she said to the BBC. “The way to talk about it is to say ‘a person with albinism’ because being ‘an albino’ sounds as if it defines who you are.”
“I’m not going to accept that children are being murdered because of their albinism,” she added.
“I want to change the world.”Xueli Abbing to BBC
Abbing concluded her story with an extremely important message for us all:
“I want other children with albinism – or any form of disability or difference – to know they can do and be anything they want,” she said. “People might say you can’t do things but you can, just try.”
Abbing’s story of perseverance and ambition is such an important one to share. Counted out and abandoned, she has become a star who wants to impact change.
With young people like Abbing shattering stereotypes and conventional standards, the world looks like it’s definitely going to be left in good hands.
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