"I want to use modeling to talk about albinism and say it's a genetic disorder, it's not a curse," the 16-year-old said.
Xueli was just a baby when her birth parents abandoned her on the ground outside an orphanage. Born with albinism—a genetic condition that affects the production of melanin and often results in very pale hair, skin, and eyes—she was considered unlucky and cursed. Today, Xueli's unique looks have given her a successful career in modeling. The 16-year-old now uses her platform to raise awareness for albinism and inspire people born with this condition to reach for the stars. "At the time I was born in China, the government enforced a one-child policy on families. You were extremely unlucky if you had a child with albinism. Some children, like me, were abandoned, others were locked away or if they did go to school their hair was painted black," Xueli told BBC.
"But in some countries in Africa, they are hunted, their limbs may be cut off or they are killed. Witch doctors use their bones to make medicines as people believe these can cure diseases but of course, this is not true, these beliefs are myths. I'm lucky I was only abandoned," she added. "The staff at the orphanage named me Xue Li. Xue means snow and Li means beautiful. I was adopted when I was three and went to live with my mum and sister in the Netherlands. My mother said she could not think of a more perfect name and she thought it was important to keep a reference to my Chinese roots."
Xueli's career in modeling began by chance when she was 11-years-old. "My mum was in contact with a designer who was originally from Hong Kong. She has a son with a cleft lip and she decided that she wanted to design very fancy clothes for him so people would not always just stare at his mouth. She called the campaign 'perfect imperfections' and asked if I wanted to join her fashion show in Hong Kong. That was an amazing experience," she revealed. This opportunity led to more photoshoots and eventually, a place in the pages of Vogue.
"In modeling, looking different is a blessing, not a curse and it gives me a platform to raise awareness of albinism," said Xueli. "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. Models with albinism often get stereotyped in shoots to depict angels or ghosts and it makes me sad. Especially because it perpetuates those beliefs that endanger the lives of children with albinism in countries such as Tanzania and Malawi."
"My albinism means I only have eight to 10 percent vision and I can't look directly at light as it hurts my eyes. Sometimes if it's too bright on a shoot I will say 'May I close my eyes or can you make the light softer?' Or I'll say 'OK, you can do three pictures with my eyes open with the flash and no more,'" she explained. "At first they might think it's hard but when they take the first picture they are like 'Wow' and they are really happy with the results."
"People tell me my visual impairment gives me a different perspective and I see details that others do not observe. It also makes me care less about the traditional view of beauty. Maybe because I cannot see everything properly I focus more on people's voices and what they have to say. So their inner beauty is more important to me."
Modeling gives her the platform to raise awareness for albinism and dispel harmful myths attached to it, said Xueli. "I want to use modeling to talk about albinism and say it's a genetic disorder, it's not a curse. 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," she said. "People say to me that I have to accept things in my past but I think that's not the case."
"I believe you need to see what's happened and understand why but not accept it. I'm not going to accept that children are being murdered because of their albinism. I want to change the world. I want other children with albinism - or any form of disability or difference - to know they can do and be anything they want. For me, I'm different in some ways but the same in others. I love sport and climbing and I can do it as well as anyone else. People might say you can't do things but you can, just try."