How do we define beauty?
If I was to ask you to picture a stereotypical model in your mind, I can be relatively certain that Ayanda Candice Sibanda, would not be someone you envisioned. Not because there is something wrong with her, but simply because she doesn’t fit the mould. At 1.54 metres, she is shorter than the average model. Secondly, it’s rare to see an Albino, male or female, walking down the catwalk at a fashion show. This is because fashion has always been a pretentious European affair whose emphasis on outward appearances kept not only Africans out of contention, but the disadvantaged — as well as any women you have ever seen in real life.
However, as more and more people look towards themselves to define beauty, the fashion industry has been forced to wake up and embrace what makes African women different. Consequently, women with fuller figures, darker skin tones and natural hair are gracing not only our catwalks but the covers of international magazines. But this doesn’t mean fashion has grown up. For change to truly occur Africans also need to redefine what beauty is in their own cultures. Currently African women with Albinism or Vitiligo are still on the margins of what is deemed attractive and admirable. Fortunately, that hasn’t stopped Ayanda from winning multiple awards.
Since she was awarded most promising model at the Summer Fashion and Style awards in 2018, Ayanda has gone on to become the second runner up at Miss Teen Zimbabwe (2019). In the same year she was crowned Miss Albinism Zimbabwe (2019). And, in 2020 she became Miss University of Zimbabwe and won a Bulawayo Arts Award (BAA) for outstanding female model. Interestingly, she still found time to appear in some Zimbabwean hitmakers music videos, namely: Roki’s “Kudakwashe”, Nutty-O’s “My Girl” and Andy Muridzo and Shayne’s “Call Me”.
Ayanda is the reigning Miss Africa Zimbabwe (2022) and a director at Miss Teen international Zimbabwe. She is responsible for scouting, training and preparing the delegates for the international pageant. But she still found some time to talk to us about her meteoric rise to fame.
AG: Firstly, let’s deal with the elephant in the room. You are very short, especially for a model. How have you overcome this hurdle, especially in an industry that measures everything?
AS: I am a bit short hey. (laughs) But I have a stubborn heart. Most people who are short tend to be loud but as for me I am tenacious and resilient. I like to open doors written DO NOT ENTER. And I love to ask questions. Questions like why not? (laughs).
JP: I can confirm that you have a stubborn spirit (laughs). But I would like to talk to you about when you realised that you were ‘different’. You’ve talked about the discrimination and stigma you faced growing up. Can you tell us something about that?
AS: Oh you mean being an Albino. Yes! There are a lot of ignorant myths, superstitions and prejudices surrounding Albinism. Whenever I left home I faced, and still face, a lot of challenges. Just having a different skin and hair colour from everyone attracts attention. And some of that attention is very negative and hurtful. But I only started to notice I’m ‘different’ in terms of how others treat their idea of me – and not who I really am. So I chose not to let random people’s ignorance steal my peace of mind. I love who I am and I enjoy being in my own skin.
AG: You are a fighter aren’t you. I say this because I noticed you entered several pageants since you started modelling professionally. Tell me something, what drives you? Are you secretly competitive?
AS: (laughs) You caught me. Yes, I am very competitive! You know, I’m often viewed as a ‘loser’ just because I am ‘different’. People write you off and set a ceiling for what you can and are supposed to achieve in life because of the colour of your skin. So … I know it sounds bad, but I hate coming number #2. I have to win! So I always put my best foot forward in everything I do. But don’t get me wrong, I am not a win at any costs type of person. Above all I love pageants. I am a fan. Pageants give me peace of mind.
AG: You seen to be more interested in pageants than fashion. By fashion, I mean clothes, runways, modelling and the likes.
AS: No, no! I am interested in fashion. Alex, sha! What gave you the idea that I don’t like clothes and make up. You know what … maybe it’s because I’m broke (laughs). Fashion isn’t friendly on the wallet; especially when you still a student. But I do spend some dollars on outfits that I can afford from time to time. Can’t believe you dissed my fashion sense … mxm. I thought we were friends. Goes to show you never truly know someone (laughs).
AG: Yes you never really know someone, that’s why I’m asking you all these hard questions (laughs). Listen … you know I was going to ask you this next question. You’re a model and a beauty pageant queen. Tell me, how do you deal with inappropriate advances and comments?
AS: That’s a really good question Alex … (laughs). That’s easy, I delete or block. That’s all, I don’t entertain people that do not have boundaries. Or bullies.
JP: There is a lot of “hate” online and offline. Tell me something – how did some of your so called ‘friends/family’ feel when you started to become well known?
AS: Firstly, you need to know that my parents are very protective. So they wanted to make sure I was safe and I was conducting myself appropriately. As for my friends, some got very jealous and we are no longer friends like we used to be. But some of my friends are very supportive and I often reach out to them for advice or a shoulder to lean on.
AG: After you became famous, when did you first realise that your voice needs to be heard? Especially in terms of your advocacy for young girls and people with disabilities through the Ayanda Candice Sibanda Foundation.
AS: At first it was just my family who celebrated my wins and losses. But when I started having random people other than my family and friends celebrate not just my wins but how I presented myself – I kind of thought – “this is something I really want to do”. I want to speak for people like me, not just with my actions, but with my life experiences. I really want to help others create a better tomorrow.
AG: Is that why you are studying to be a lawyer? I can imagine you as a Human Rights lawyer. But before we go too far, why is “The Law” so important to you?
AS: I’m not yet sure what I’ll specialize in but I can tell you that everything is “The Law”. From Moses’ commandments to our constitution to our parents’ unwritten laws (laughs). But honestly, I love studying the law because it’s about understanding what we as a society have chosen to uphold and fight for. Our agreed upon rights. The law is about that part of life, and that’s important to me.
JP: Education is also very important to you. You’ve had a lot of great teachers and mentors over the years from Samantha Tshuma at Open Eye Studios to Hillary Indi and Mary Yuki Mundeya. What’s the greatest lesson you ever learned from just watching some of the people you’ve been around?
AS: I’m still learning from everyone around me so I can’t say what my greatest lesson is. But one thing I want to say is – “be authentic”. I don’t think I would have gotten this far if I pretended to be something I am not. Most of the people I have been around allow me to be myself. So what I’ve learnt from them is how to treat everybody the same way you would like to be treated. So maybe the greatest lesson is to “stay true to who you are”.
AG: Lastly. You work too hard. People have told me to tell you to slow down, but I know you won’t. However, I am curious to know what do you do during your down time?
AS: I practice my acceptance speeches (laughs). I’m joking! I do Yoga. This is because I am very stubborn in my everyday life so I have to introduce some kind of flexibility. If I don’t have the energy for Yoga, I read. I watch movies and listen to lots of music. Sometimes … and this is a recent development … I try to cook, properly. But I’m not a great cook yet, so make sure you eat well before you come to my place. (laughs)