Vivian Adenijo is a 23-year-old Grammy Award-winning video vixen, courtesy her role in Beyonce, Blu Ivy and Wizkid’s popular ‘Brown Skin Girl’. She speaks to GODFREY GEORGE about her career and experience as a person living with albinism
Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Vivian Adenijo. I am 23 years old. I am a student of Mass Media at the National Open University, Lagos campus. I am a model, video vixen, script writer and an activist for Persons with Albinism.
You were on Beyonce’s Grammy Award-winning song ‘Brown Skin Girl’. How did you get there?
I remember I was having a shoot with Wizkid a week before that shoot (Brown Skin Girl shoot). I just got a call late at night one day and I was told to come to a location for a video shoot. I was surprised since the call was not what I was expecting, but I have this habit of not asking too many questions, especially as pertains to when I get called by agents for a job. So, I showed up that morning and saw the hairstylist doing her job on other models and she was asking me how I felt being on set for Brown Skin Girl video. I was confused, because I didn’t know whether or not the video was shot. I had to ask the other models if they were on Brown Skin Girl’s video, and the response I got was, “You didn’t know you were coming on set for the shoot of Brown Skin Girl?” I said no, because, honestly, I had no idea what she was talking about. I am not a BSG, so why am I being invited for a shoot that promotes blackness and people of colour? It was confusing, so I was indifferent throughout the shoot. I kept asking myself, “What am I doing here on this shoot? I am sure my face will even show because I don’t fit that description.”
How did you feel seeing yourself as the cover of the song despite not fitting the typical description of ‘brown’?
I was shocked at first, honestly. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I kept asking myself why. Not only was my face in the front cover of the video, it was used to promote the song on a billboard in London. I was so pleased with myself. It got me emotional. It proved that I must be doing something right. I got to find out much later that Beyonce used that song to celebrate colour, and for me to be on that shoot, it was something really big for me.
Let’s talk about your journey in the recently concluded Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria contest. What encouraged you to pick up the form notwithstanding being a person living with albinism?
The fact that I was able to mount the podium as the first girl living with albinism to contest for the crown makes me fulfilled. When I got the form, I was in my first movie set for a feature film and I was contemplating within myself whether or not I was qualified to contest. This was after BSG won a Grammy for best video at the awards in 2020. When I went through my profile, I told myself that I had what it took to contest, even if I still had doubts, fears and what-ifs. It took me over a week to submit the video for the contest, but I eventually did and was chosen to represent Osun State, my state of origin. It had a lot of stages, but as I scaled through every stage, I got bolder and more confident. My friends called to express concerns that I might be discriminated against. Some told me outright that I would regret it. MBGN is the biggest pageantry in Nigeria and whoever wins gets to represent Nigeria in the Miss World pageant. When I got to camp, a lot of people kept telling me that I was beautiful and courageous. All those positive comments emboldened me. They were was a reaffirmation for me that I am a human being and that meant something.
You didn’t eventually win the contest. Do you think it was because of your skin colour?
No. I won’t want to say that. No. I had a lot of positive remarks, but there is a saying, “Let the best man win!” That is a mantra I live by. My mindset was not for me to win. I wanted to go there and pass a message across to people living with albinism that they are somebody and they mean something. I was able to do that, and that has been more fulfilling that anything else right now.
Majority of people in Nigeria see albinism as a disability. What has been your experience?
Growing up wasn’t easy at all for me. The environment wasn’t friendly. Going to school, I was always bullied just because of my skin colour. It was so emotionally-draining. Sometimes I woke up and did not feel like going to school. “What am I going there to do?” I’d ask myself. I didn’t have any friend as I was always on my own. I had low self-esteem and was always depressed. Imagine schooling in a public school with a lot of pupils singing mockery songs to you whenever you walked past them. Some people would stop me on the road and say very hurtful things to me. It went on like that till I got to SS1 when a woman visited our school from a foundation. She walked up to me and told me I was beautiful and she would love to have a skin like mine. That was the game-changer for me. I repeated it, “I am beautiful!” It boosted my confidence level a few notches higher. That was how I got into modelling. It was a real force, a push for me. One thing about me is that I have also learnt to make people’s discrimination my motivation.
You are an activist for Persons Living with Albinism. How has the journey been so far?
Some people still don’t believe that albinism is just a skin condition and it doesn’t affect the quality of life and the kind of work one can do. My kind of activism is not for the fight against people discriminating people living with albinism. No. I am here to empower people who have the condition to think of themselves, first as humans and confident enough to do anything which any other human can do. Live your life so unapologetically so that others will not be able to discriminate against you because you are living your best life. I am for the self-acceptance, self-assertion, self-believe and self-confidence of those living with albinism. PWA must have enough confidence to fight against anyone who wants to antagonise them on the basis of their skin. There are thousands of people fighting against this discrimination, and not much has changed. How about we look within? An organisation I worked with scheduled a meeting with the United Nations last month. It was about the assessment of the treatment of in people living with albinism in Nigeria and the truth remains that not much has changed. We are still being discriminated against. Change begins with one person; and I want to be that change. If at this age, with this condition, I am able to have achieved this much, then, you can imagine if thousands of PWA stood their ground and aim for the top. I met with the Governor of Osun State, Mr Gboyega Oyetola, and I have been getting a lot of features recently all because I took one bold step. I’d keep saying this – beauty is not by standard, colour or shape; it comes from the inside and flows right out. Being able to establish this has always been my greatest project.