Albino model walks the VMAs red carpet with Beyoncé

When Ava Clarke was born and in the months that followed, it was clear there was something different about her. Her eyes were blue-green, her lips were bright pink, her skin was fair, and what little hair she had was coming in blonde. All of this was quite unusual, considering her both her biological parents are brown-eyed African-Americans. And her beautiful, unique look put her in strong demand as a model.

Today, Clarke is a stunning 8-year-old — and a working model. Her unique appearance is the result of albinism, a genetic disorder marked by the lack of pigment in skin, eyes, and hair. Albinism can affect a person of any race, and although it can cause vision problems and sensitivity to the sun, it isn’t otherwise considered detrimental to one’s health.

Beyonce and Ava. Photo: Getty Images.
Beyonce and Ava. Photo: Getty Images.

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Clarke has undergone genetic testing and eye exams since she was a baby. Doctors said she’d be blind. Since the age of 4, she’s been examined by her state’s School for the Blind, but the little girl has defied the odds. Today, Ava attends a regular school and simply needs glasses — but like most kids, she has to be reminded to wear them!

Modelling scouts have noticed her, of course. Jones has graced the pages of BOOM, VIP, and Denim magazines, and worked with celebrity photographers. The young beauty has also caught the eye of casting directors.

But life isn’t charmed for all those with albinism. Sadly, the disorder has long been stigmatised. People with albinism are often mocked for their unusual appearance — especially their “red eyes,” a myth that stems from the fact that camera flashes sometimes make their light blue, green, or grey irises appear red in pictures.

It gets worse. In places like Africa’s Malawi and Tanzania, it can actually be life-threatening. And it’s not because albinism itself is fatal, but because people with the affliction are often hunted down, kidnapped, and killed. In these cultures, their body parts are thought to have magical properties, and are used to make healing potions. People in these countries live in fear of being abducted and dismembered, and having their limbs and organs sold to witch doctors.

Grave robbers in Africa have even been known to dig up the corpses of people with albinism, so their plots have to be sealed with concrete for protection. In 2009, the then prime minister of Tanzania revoked the licenses of any witch doctors who were found to use the body parts of albinos in their rituals. That same year, the courts of Tanzania made their first conviction of a person who murdered an albino.

Browsing through images of Ava Clarke, it’s hard to believe that anyone would want to hurt her — or anyone like her. Quite apart from her natural beauty, the girl knows how to work the camera. And those who know her say her personality is just as dazzling. According to her website, Clarke “enjoys reading, gymnastics, long-distance running, ballet, memorising scripts, and playing pretend.”

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To be so young, so beautiful inside and out, and overcome a negative prognosis and a long-held social stigma is something to be admired.

- Kristine Solomon

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