A 7-year-old boy is breaking barriers for those with skin pigment conditions. Samuel Silva, from Bahia, Brazil, was born with piebaldism, a rare genetic condition that results in sections of his skin being white from lack of melanin. Piebaldism runs in his family — his mother and grandmother have the same distinctive mark across their foreheads. But Samuel has been the only one to spin his unique look into a modeling career.
It’s taken generations for the family to embrace their appearance, however. His grandmother, Dona Dionisia, 65, was teased so much for the markings of white that she wore long shirts and pants to cover her skin. Samuel’s mother, nail technician Nivianei de Jesus Purificaçao, 41, took the opposite approach, wearing tank tops and skirts and embracing her skin color with confidence. When children in her neighborhood began to call her Free Willy after the orca in the 1993 movie, she took the misuse in stride and used the nickname herself.
Still, she had hoped her children wouldn’t have to endure the constant looks from strangers, many of whom stopped them to ask if they had experienced loss or some other trauma. Nivianei’s daughter was born without piebaldism. When Samuel was born in 2013 with the condition, the family at first tried to hide it by shaving his head to hide the markings, which also show up in his hair. The condition, which affects 1 out of every 20,000 babies born, does not have any negative health effects.
“Nivianei knew she would have to do whatever she could to help Samuel grow up being proud of his skin,” Samuel’s uncle, Julio Sanchez-Velo, 53, told Media Drum. But “the family brought him up to accept himself and his differences.” In February of last year, they started an Instagram account to share stunning pictures of Samuel. The self-proclaimed “supermodel” now has more than 30,000 followers on the platform. “Samuel’s hair in particular is stunning,” Julio said. “Once they let it grow into an afro, it looked amazing.”
The account caught the eye of children’s modeling agency Sugar Kids later that year. He then became an overnight sensation. His face appeared in Junior Style London, Bazaar Kids, Dixie Magazine and others. He’s also made his debut on the runway during Toronto fashion week, Paris fashion week and London Kids fashion week. “He really loves modeling. He is very artistic and loves to walk on the runway and pose for photographs,” Julio said.
Samuel hopes that other kids who might get made fun of for how they look will find ways to embrace their appearances. “Samuel knows he is different and has embraced it even at his young age,” Julio said. “He has become the face of acceptance and inclusion in the children’s fashion industry, and we hope that other kids who feel different about themselves will see how well Samuel is doing and feel good about their own differences.”
This is how people reacted to this post:
Alizabeth Unruh: “Absolutely beautiful.. I’d be insecure because people are extremely mean.. But I’d love to look like that.. It’s.. Unique and amazing and completely different so I would stand out”
Shanney Patterson: “My baby is almost 2 months old and has one of her middle fingers like this. I’ve wondered if it would spread , because I did not notice it when she was born, I could’ve almost swear it wasn’t there.”
Denise Murphy: “Gorgeous little boy and its us that have to be educated so he with his family just carry on as normal.”
Jane Newsome: “He is cute as a button. I remember a little girl, who was the niece of my next door neighbor when I was a child, had this condition. I didn’t know the name of it then, but this was definitely what she had. She had a huge patch of white hair at the front of her head and part of her forehead was white.”
Suzanne Stannard-Vazquez: “My Vitiligo started on my knuckles and slowly moved up my hands. Was in my 30s, now I’m 72 and I’m kind of patchwork! With white spots. my neck is white with hair to match. My brother has some. No one else in my family. I guess it’s a genetic condition.”
This article was originally published on the nypost.com