Abandoned outside an orphanage in China as a baby, model Xueli Abbing has become an inspiring representative of the albino community
Finding a baby abandoned on the ground outside, staff at the orphanage in China called her Xue Li. ‘Xue’ means snow, and ‘Li’ means beautiful.
Adopted at the age of three by a family in the Netherlands, her mother kept the name, thinking it a poignant reference to her daughter’s pale skin and Chinese roots.
Now, 16-year-old Xueli Abbing’s name is becoming known around the world, as a model who has appeared in the likes of Vogue – but also as an inspiring representative of the albino community.
Abbing may never know for sure why she was left at the orphanage, but many in China view albinism – a rare genetic condition causing a lack of pigment in eyes, skin and hair – as a curse.
When it comes to modelling, Abbing has found her difference more of a blessing: she is represented by the Zebedee Talent agency, which aims to make people who have disabilities more visible in the world of fashion.
“I want to help people to see that being different is good, and definitely not some curse, as they believe in countries like Tanzania and Malawi,” said Abbing. “Some companies try to include models who are different, but sometimes for the wrong reason, because they want to say: ‘Hey look at us, we are also including people with differences or people of different colour’.”
But Abbing welcomes what she sees as a shift towards people wanting to learn about and embrace differences. “Also talk with people with differences directly, ask them questions and listen to what they have to say,” she urged.
I want to help people to see that being different is good, and definitely not some curse
When not in front of the camera, Abbing loves climbing and swimming, and used to be a competitive judo player. It’s important to her to focus on what is possible, rather than what isn’t. (Her albinism means she has only 8-10 per cent vision, and that it hurts to look at light directly).
“At school, teachers tend to look at the things you cannot do. I really didn’t like that, although they meant well. I know I’m visually impaired. I would rather they had focused on the things I can do instead.”
She loves the world of travel and meeting new people, which her modelling has opened up, and particularly working with artists and on artistic projects. The outfit she wore for this photo, for example, is made from dandelion seeds by Dutch floral designer Conny van der Westerlaken. “This really inspires me. Their creations are amazing,” Abbing said.
The teen also pours her creativity into crochet artwork. “Because I see the world from a different angle, my artwork turns out a little different as well,” she said.
Image: Rob Jansen. Floral design: Conny van der Westerlaken; hair: Marije Helder; makeup: Didi Izendoorn