Shaun Ross, Rising

2.4.2014

By Julien Sauvalle

The model on bullying, the cutthroat industry, and Beyoncé

Photography by Danny Roche

It can be tough to make it as a male model, particularly when you look like Shaun Ross. Born with albinism, Ross survived violent attacks from bullies while growing up in the Bronx. Then, intrigued by his unusual beauty, the agencies came knocking. Now, after six years climbing the ranks of high-fashion modeling, the 22-year-old has earned a seal of approval from the likes of Tyra Banks, Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, and Beyoncé. Ross’s roles in two of the most talked-about videos of the past few months (Del Rey’s epic “Tropico” and Bey’s “Pretty Hurts”) should still be fresh in your memory. Now it’s time to memorize his name — you’re going to be seeing it a lot in 2014.

A “B-Day” Gift
“I’ve known Ty Hunter, Beyoncé’s stylist, for a few years. On my birthday he introduced me to her. She was working on her album 4 and wanted my opinion on a song. We sat together in a car and she played a draft of what would become ‘Party.’ I told her I liked it a lot, that it reminded me of roller-rink discos. She said, ‘That’s exactly what I’m trying to do... My birthday present to you is that, when I shoot that video, you can be in it.’ That’s how I ended up in my first Beyoncé video.”

On Bullying
“I had to mature fast. My parents raised me completely differently from the majority of the kids I went to school with, so it allowed me to look at the situation a little differently. If you take the things people say, put them in slow motion, and really listen to them, half the time they’re speaking from their own fears and insecurities. They don’t know better.”

Mother Tyra
“Tyra Banks is all about taking what you have and running with it, expressing your flaws. When I came out and nobody wanted to deal with me because they didn’t know what to do with me, Tyra was like, ‘Well, I’m going to introduce you to the world on my show.’ She’s been a big help.”

On a Cutthroat Industry
“To this day I get hard things said to me. I’ve had a male model come up and say, ‘I don’t even know why you’re big. I think I look way better than you.’ It actually made me laugh a little. The thing about modeling is that it’s not about who looks better, it’s about what feels right for the client. I know I have my own special thing, and that keeps me going.”

UPDATED: Three additional quotes from Shaun Ross's interview, exclusively for Out.com

The Role Model
“I don’t talk about my sexuality, nor do I hide it: I’ve never hidden who I am. Why should I? In modeling, as in acting, you are basically role-playing, portraying something the client wants. I don’t think your sexuality should have anything to do with it, because at the end of the day you’re not exactly who you are in whatever you’re doing.”

Pretty Hurts
“To me, beauty is a preference. Being pretty does hurt because you have to go through the judgment of what other people think pretty is. There are a lot of people in this world who think people with albinism are extremely beautiful. For a person like me, who’s been ostracized his entire life, to now be doing this with Beyoncé, who the whole world thinks is beautiful, was actually really cool.”

Universal Advocate
“I can relate to a lot of people on different things: People who grew up in poor areas, people who don’t have anyone believing in them, people who look different, with different sexualities, with different gene isolations. I’d like to be a universal advocate. One of my goals in 2014 is to make my campaign #inmyskiniwin a little bit more known around the world. I started it a few months ago on Instagram after being inspired by a little girl’s picture, and it just started to grow.”

VIDEO: Shaun Ross goes back to his roots in the Bronx with photographer Danny Roche

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