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Growing up with vitiligo, a skin condition which causes the loss of pigment in the skin, there was nothing that Andrea Thomas wanted more than to be just like everyone else. But her “difference” has now set her apart as a game changing model who is redefining the industry’s standard of beauty. “I feel both honored and validated that I’m allowed to normalize vitiligo in the beauty and fashion industries in some small way. It’s not the most important issue in the world but I know what it could mean for someone else feeling alone.”
Thomas was recently featured in swimwear brand Summersalt’s groundbreaking “Every Body is a Beach Body” campaign and told us how she's "changing the game" as a model and why inclusivity and diversity are about more than just representation.
How did you become part of Summersalt's beach body campaign?
One of the co-founders, Reshma Chamberlin, believes she saw a photo of me from another campaign on Instagram. Summersalt reached out to my agency (We Speak) and requested two other models as well.
What was it like shooting the campaign with other incredible women who are also challenging beauty norms?
It was definitely one of the most fun shoots I’ve been a part of. It was shot over several days so I didn’t meet or know every one involved until the campaign launched. The women I did meet are from all different walks of life and doing really amazing things. Seeing all of our photos lined up together definitely gave me a sense of pride to be a part of this campaign.
How did growing up with vitiligo affect you?
Growing up, I knew I was different but all I wanted was to be the same as everyone else. I really did not embrace it and I think that was due to the unwanted attention it gave me. I hated being stared at or for my skin to be discussed. It was definitely a journey to learn that being different in any small or large way can be an advantage. I think some days can still be hard but like any person I have to find peace with my struggles every day and remember that having vitiligo is just one part of my story. I’ve learned to be more compassionate towards others, more forgiving of my own appearance, more accepting of change. I’m able to educate people which means a lot to me.
What does it mean to be recognized as a "game changing model"?
There will always be people who wonder “why is she a model?” but at the same time I have gotten messages from people saying they feel a sense of relief and deep happiness when they come across my photos. That is what changes the game to me, showing people that you don’t have to hide parts of yourself for the benefit of others and that it is possible to live your life fully and the way you want to. Beauty is so much more than what the industry shows us it is and I really applaud brands that want to represent more faces — it is definitely a positive change.
Inclusivity has become the new buzz word in both the fashion and beauty industries. In what ways are brands getting it right and in what ways are they missing the mark?
I think Nike is getting it right for sure. I think the mannequins are great. Inclusivity and diversity — yet another great buzz word — are about so much more than just representation. It’s about making products that suit every body and making their needs a part of the conversation. I think brands that still believe exclusivity are what makes them highly sought after are really missing the mark. People are tired of conforming or patiently waiting for someone to cater to their needs. And there are more and more brands who are taking notice of all skin types and body types so people will take their dollars elsewhere. (Ahem, Victoria’s Secret).
Your modeling career is really taking off! What are some goals/dreams you'd like to achieve?
Thanks! I don’t really like to share them out loud (superstitious of me) but I want to continue to put myself out there. I would love to work with more swimwear and sportswear brands, more beauty brands and more fashion magazines but I am content with what I’ve done so far and it really depends on the industry. Most importantly, I would love some opportunities to write for and to work with teens and children.