She was named by the staff at the orphanage, the ‘Xue’ in her name means snow while ‘Li’ means beautiful. She was named this because she was born with albinism.
Albinism is a genetic condition that leads to reduced pigment melanin in a person and causes their skin, hair, and eyes to be pale.
She was adopted by a family in the Netherlands who provided her with a loving home. When she was 11 years old, she was asked by a designer in Hong Kong to model for him for a shoot where he wanted to portray various kinds of beauty.
“She called the campaign ‘perfect imperfections’ and asked if I wanted to join her fashion show in Hong Kong,” Abbing said in an interview to the BBC. “That was an amazing experience,” she added.
People with albinism are discriminated against in various parts of the world. In some instances, they are even ‘hunted’ because of the false belief that their bones have medicinal properties. “I’m lucky I was only abandoned,” Abbing has said.
At times even models with albinism can be used as props to depict angels or ghosts, about which, Abbing says, “It makes me sad.”
But Abbing was lucky enough to work with a photographer from London who treated her like any model should be treated. The result was a stunning photoshoot. One of the images from it was even 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,” recalls.
Being a model comes with its own set of hurdles for Abbing. She has 8 to 10% vision and hence looking directly at camera flashes is painful for her. But she still wants to represent people like her who are not conventionally beautiful and that keeps her going.
“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 said in the interview.
“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,” she says.
She hopes in making a difference in the world and educating people about her condition. “I want to use modeling to talk about albinism and say it’s a genetic disorder, it’s not a curse,” she says. “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.”