We caught up with the three sisters to talk misconceptions around albinism, how being a twin has affected their beauty identities and their modelling careers
We first came across the unique beauty of the Bawar sisters three years ago, captured as part of Brazilian photographer Vinicius Terranova’s captivating Flore Raras series. Here albino twins Lara and Mara (only 11 years old at the time) appear with their older sister Sheila against a simple backdrop, the richness of their contrasting complexions and the warmth of their interactions shining through as the focal point. After gaining mainstream attention through Terranova’s work (including from Willow Smith, a career highlight, they say), the three sisters were signed by JOY Models and have since worked with Brazilian designer Alexandre Herchcovitch on a global fashion campaign, given a talk at an event hosted by Projeto Força Meninas (Women’s Strength Project) celebrating International Girl's Day, and racked up 138,000 Instagram followers as they went.
Born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, Lara and Mara were often teased about the way they looked. “We have always attracted a lot of attention at school and on the streets,” they tell us. “For some time we thought society would never embrace how off-standard we looked.” Now fourteen, the twins are learning, however, that they are not defined by the judgements of other people and have found power in self-acceptance - something they hope to share with future generations.
Currently working on a new website dedicated to discussing black and African culture worldwide, as well as reviews on local and international beauty trends, we caught up with the sisters about misconceptions around albinism, how being a twin has affected their beauty identities and their modelling careers.
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and where you grew up?
Bawar sisters: The three of us are Brazilians, raised in São Paulo by an immigrant mother from Guiné-Bissau, where most of our family still lives. From a very early age, she taught us to appreciate and respect our African origins by telling us amazing stories about our ancestors and other strong black women which inspired us and helped us build a strong self-image. Though each of us carries a very unique personality, we are mostly outgoing and charismatic and have always been very united as sisters.
Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?
Bawar sisters: As happens to everyone, we never minded anything about our appearance until we reached a certain age. We started getting conscious about being different as soon as we noticed how rare and far from mainstream beauty standards our skin tone with our hair texture was. There was no one we could physically relate to on television or in movies and magazines or toys and this lack of representation at first made us feel kind of weird.
Were there ever times you felt insecure? How did you overcome this?
Bawar sisters: We have always attracted a lot of attention at school and on the streets. For some time we thought society would never embrace how off-standard we looked but we started overcoming that as soon as we realized this acceptance had to come from ourselves first, and that people's judgement shouldn't define us at any time. We can't say those steps were easy to follow but they had an empowering effect over time, together with the acknowledgement of strong figures in our history and culture that had inspired us ever since.
How has living with albinism affected the way you view beauty?
Bawar sisters: We were often teased with mean comments about our skin tone, which upset us. Self-acceptance has been essential to understanding that real beauty is found in diversity and in each person's uniqueness. We can all be and feel beautiful as soon as we embrace that and actually see how boring a uniform world would be.
What is the biggest misconception about albinism?
Bawar sisters: There's a lot of misconceptions on albinism out there. People often ask if we are “white albinos” and we always clarify we are black girls with albinism. At school, the main misconception we get asked about is on how we “contracted albinism” and if “it ok to touch us?” We explain that we weren't “infected” by someone nor it is contagious – it's genetic. Sometimes it bothers us, but we got used to and are happy to explain.
How do you hope to challenge those misconceptions?
Bawar sisters: We think it’s urgent for people to acknowledge not only what albinism is but also how to deal with it naturally and provide integration and proper care for the albino community. Therefore, through our online channels, we hope to continually raise awareness about basic sun protection and the importance of monitoring skin and eyes health.
How has being a twin affected your beauty identity?
Bawar sisters: Overall, being identical twins means getting mistaken for one another all the time. Although we may have had some fun exchanging roles and confusing friends, our necessity to feel and stand as individuals has led us to develop very distinctive and sometimes opposite personality traits, behaviours and even music and fashion tastes.
How did you get into modelling?
Bawar sisters: A Brazilian collective of black creatives called MOOC learned about us and invited the three of us to participate in a Nike short dedicated to Black History month in 2016. Soon after, we featured in photographer Vinicius Terranova's series “Rare Flowers” which went viral. This huge visibility led to TV channels broadcasting our story worldwide and ever-growing modelling opportunities came from that, which had always been our dream.
What does it mean to you to be a model?
Bawar sisters: For us, modelling is all about identity. As models, we feel we are representing not only albino or black beauty but those who, like us, have ever felt or still feel unrepresented by editorials, billboards, TV. We soon learned through feedback from our fans and followers that our work and message has helped many people, especially kids, embrace their uniqueness – whatever it may be. And that has pretty much defined the most essential part of being a model for us today.
What’s been your proudest moment so far?
Bawar sisters: This is hard to answer since every step of the way has brought us plenty of joy and has also been a very personal experience to each one of us. If we were to mention three proudest moments they would be: working with acclaimed fashion designer Alexandre Herchcovitch; lecturing to a huge crowd as part of a Girl Power and Leadership event; and of course, having our idol Willow Smith re-post and praise our picture on her Instagram... she's such an inspiration to us.
How has modelling and working in the fashion industry changed your idea of beauty?
Bawar sisters: Working in the fashion industry helped us realize how diverse people can be regarding their shapes, colours, background and attitude. We now understand beauty isn't limited nor can it be reduced to a narrow standard, and each person should learn to unfold and express their own beauty.
What is your relationship with “beauty” now?
Bawar sisters: Today we accept and appreciate every detail that makes us who we are. Our main beauty routine is to enjoy and cherish what we see in the mirror, remembering it can only reflect what we are able to feel first.
What does “beauty” mean to you?
Bawar sisters: For us, being beautiful means feeling beautiful. It’s something more related to attitude than to looks. This is not always easy since society can be very demanding about how people behave and express themselves but that's why feeling beautiful and perceiving beauty first comes from embracing uniqueness as a gift and diversity as a value.
What would you hope people take away from your work?
Bawar sisters: We hope our image and message can remind the world every person is as precious as unique. By respecting each other’s image and identity, we can protect feelings and grow stronger bonds as a community. Every singularity is worthy of appreciation and sums up to the charming aspect of diversity. We should praise and protect our differences as blessings, not hide them or point them out as inconvenient.
How do you hope your unique beauty will help others learn to embrace theirs?
Bawar sisters: We hope people can learn to embrace their uniqueness as they see us express ours as we find our way and find self-love outside the beauty standards limits. We also feel our strong bond as sisters can be felt beyond our images and adds an impact to our work.
What are you working on at the moment?
Bawar sisters: We are working hard on finishing our new website, a project specially dedicated to our Brazilian community and other Portuguese speaking countries to discuss black and African culture worldwide, and source updates and reviews on local and international fashion trends, music, art, entertainment and beauty. We are very excited about it and hope it can soon be translated into more languages. We are also being brokered by JOY Models, a big step in our professional modelling careers.
What are you most excited about for the future?
Bawar sisters: The three of us aspire to study to become actresses someday and Sheila also dreams of graduating and working as a fashion designer. We wish to keep always representing a positive approach to diversity and its beauty.