This Makeup Artist With Albinism Created a Line of Blonde Eyelashes for Women Just Like Her
Jennifer Rhodes is one of the roughly 1 in 20,000 Americans with some form of albinism, a condition that causes a complete or partial absence of skin, hair, and eye pigment. But where she grew up in Indianapolis, she was the only person she knew with it.
"My own understanding of albinism was shaped by the negativity around me," Rhodes, 35, now living in New York City, tells Health. "People would always say mean things to me, and I was shy and didn't want to go outside because if I went out in public, I knew it would be uncomfortable." Thanks to her love of art and makeup, Rhodes was able to come out of her shell, eventually launching her own line of makeup made for women with albinism.
Raised in a family of artists, Rhodes naturally gravitated towards art, winning competitions for her work throughout high school. While studying art in college, however, things stopped clicking. Rhodes is visually impaired; she lives with extreme nearsightedness that can't be fully corrected with glasses or contacts. It's a condition commonly associated with albinism.
"I failed art in college because I couldn't see some of the subjects that we were drawing," says Rhodes. "It was difficult to advocate for myself to tell instructors that I'm visually impaired. I would always try to hide it." Since she also experienced bullying because of her skin and poor vision growing up, Rhodes found it hard to embrace her albinism—until she discovered makeup.
"When I first got into makeup, I was so afraid of color that I only wore clear mascara," says Rhodes. "I didn't know if I could wear color because I wasn't sure if it would look okay. I'd never seen a picture of another woman with albinism wearing makeup before." Inspired by the rich, colorful work of makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin, Rhodes branched out into more dynamic makeup looks. Yet as she delved deeper into makeup, she noticed a dearth of options for people with albinism.
"My friends would always ask the same questions—'What's the best brow pencil for someone with my hair color?' 'What's the best foundation?'" Rhodes recalls. "Over the years, we've seen a lot more options become available to us, but one thing that we could never find was a blonde false eyelash." So she decided to fill the void, launching a set of blonde mink eyelashes made for people with albinism under the label Ivoree Beauty.
"A lot of times, I was changing my eyelash color to match what was out there—black mascara. We couldn't even find a brown mascara for a while," says Rhodes. "Now we have all of these bright, funky colors like blue. We just want a blonde lash or a blonde mascara."
Rhodes sourced the lashes and designed the packaging herself, featuring a drawing of a young woman with albinism—an image she rarely saw in magazines or online. Starting with only an inventory of 30 lash sets made just for her friends, Rhodes had no idea how in-demand her concept would be.
"I thought it would be really cool to see albinism represented on the package and when I posted it, I had really just put it out there for my friends," says Rhodes. Within a few hours, her website received over 7,000 hits from others looking for her unique lashes. "A lot of people messaged me loving my idea, and they didn't even have albinism," she says. "I thought it was awesome that people were recognizing my idea and wishing me well."
There's been an increase in options for makeup lovers with albinism, but Rhodes insists that brands and artists actually listen to individuals with albinism when creating their products. "We're not all the same pale complexion, we come in different undertones and a range of shades," she says. "We're mostly on the fairer end, but people with albinism can have little to no pigment in their skin, so we can be different complexions." Next in line for Ivoree Beauty? Foundations and a complexion palette for contouring and highlighting.
"When I first started wearing makeup, I noticed how different people would act towards me. People would tell me I'm beautiful and actually want to talk to me," Rhodes reflects. "As I got older, I don't care what others think. It took a very long time to realize it wasn't about me, it was them and their problem. I had to get past all of that and stop putting makeup on for other people and put it on if I felt like it."
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