Shaun Ross
The imperfect model
02:49 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Shaun Ross challenges the standards of beauty at New York Fashion Week

Ross was born with albinism: "I was always the outcast, but a confident outcast"

Media outlets say quirky is in when it comes to models

Some argue there's still not enough diversity on the runway

CNN  — 

By definition, a model is an archetype, an example to emulate.

Within those standards, Shaun Ross is a model of imperfection.

The 22-year-old was born with albinism, a congenital disorder that results in the production of little to no pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. The condition affects an estimated 1 in 17,000 people in the United States, according to the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, and puts people at risk for persecution in some parts of the world, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

During this New York Fashion Week, which runs until September 12, Ross appeared in presentations for brands Third NYC and Monsieur Belange. He previously walked the runway in Berlin and appeared in music videos for Katy Perry and Beyoncé. His most anticipated project is an upcoming short film entitled “Tropico” with Lana Del Rey.

Ross, who describes his look as “euphoric,” is one of a growing number of anti-cookie-cutter models. He said his smile “isn’t the prettiest,” but illuminating; his face is “very disoriented,” but edgy.

“I challenge photographers,” he said.

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Ross said his condition doesn’t confine or define him – it has just always been there.

The 6-foot-1 model came into the world the same way he did the modeling industry: in an unlikely fashion. Ross’s mom gave birth to him on the highway on the way to the hospital.

“The nickname my parents always called me was Nissan,” Ross said with a laugh.

But growing up in the Bronx borough of New York, Ross said he was called everything from “Casper” to “Powder” to “white bread.” In seventh grade, the teasing culminated when a boy stabbed him in the back six times with a pen.

“I was always the outcast, but a confident outcast,” Ross said. “I just had to accept it. I’m going to be me; either you’re going to accept it or you’re not.”

Ross, in part, credits his confidence to his mother, who never dwelled on his differences.

“It’s really weird to say, but I never thought about my skin being weird. I just knew that’s what it was. I never asked myself why I didn’t look like my parents,” Ross said. “My mother has showed me you have no fear. You let people judge you, but who gives a f—k?”

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    To him, beauty is confidence.

    While the runways this week continue to be dominated by waif-like bodies, angular faces and symmetrical, round eyes, Ross arrived on the scene just as the modeling industry is abuzz about what it means to be beautiful.

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    The New York Times recently declared it the season of the quirky model.

    “It girl” of the moment Cara Delevingne sports full, bushy brows and self-deprecating, goofy Instagrams to match. She also suffers from psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that often results in splotchy red patches on the skin. A recent flare-up served as an accessory to a red Versace gown during Milan Fashion Week in February 2013.

    “It only happened during Fashion Week!” Delevingne told W Magazine.

    “Which is, of course, the worst time of the year for me to be covered in scabs. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, and I’m sensitive. Kate (Moss) saw me before the Louis Vuitton show at 3 a.m., when I was being painted by people to cover the scabs.”

    Meanwhile, Lindsey Wixson with her “bee-stung lips” and gap teeth glided down the runway for top designers Rebecca Minkoff and Zac Posen, among others, during New York Fashion Week.

    Ukrainian model Masha Tyelna’s otherworldly eyes pierce the cameras, while Andrej Pejic continues to push limits with crossover between menswear and womenswear. Charlotte Free rocks pink hair, while Saskia de Brauw sports a short, grunge haircut – and challenges the notion that models must be in their late teens by continuing to work at age 32.

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    Some argue there isn’t enough racial diversity in modeling, such as model-turned-activist Bethann Hardison, who sent a memo to Fashion Week organizers on behalf of the Diversity Coalition, an advocacy group that champions diversity on the runway.

    “Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches fashion design houses consistently use one or no models of color,” Hardison wrote to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, as well as to the British Fashion Council and the governing fashion week bodies for Paris and Milan.

    “No matter the intention, the result is racism,” she continues; the memo went on to call out specific designers who featured zero or only a couple of black models during their last season.

    According to Noah Shelley and