There’s nothing like being bullied and then ending up with the last laugh.
Meet model Winnie Harlow, the 19-year-old, 5’10 Canadian model making huge waves in the modelling world despite her “non-traditional” look.
Winnie — real name Chantelle Brown-Young — has vitiligo, a skin condition she’s been living with since she was four years old. The condition causes areas of her skin to randomly lose its pigmentation, thus leaving her with white patches all over her face and body. It’s not a look we normally see in fashion print ads or on the runway, but Winnie is hoping to turn that all that around. And she’s well on her way because the former America’s Next Top Model contestant, who walked the runway during London Fashion Week a few months ago, just landed a major modelling gig with Diesel!
As part of their Spring/Summer 2015 campaign, which aims to promote “tolerance, equality and unconditional love,” the fashion brand booked Winnie for their campaign where she’s serving happiness and acceptance in the fun shoot.
It’s all a dream come true for the beauty who grew up being bullied, alienated and called everything from “zebra” to “cow” due to her unique appearance.
She explained in the 2011 documentary short, Vitiligo: A Skin Condition Not a Life Changer:
I got it when I was around three or four [years old]. When I got older, it got harder ’cause as kids get older, they get meaner. So I went through a lot of bullying with people calling me ‘zebra’ and ‘cow’ and stuff like that. So it was really hard for me growing up. I had to grow up quick. People make fun of you and you either learn how to deal or you break down and I’m not trying to break down so I have to deal, and be like, “Yeah, it’s just a skin condition. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m well. You can breathe the same air as me.
In a TED Talks last year, she shared a story about losing friends when she was younger because their parents ignorantly thought her condition was contagious, and realizing it was best to fit her own mold.
In school, I changed schools in about grade three or two and it’s already hard to make friends when you change schools, especially at such a young age. But luckily, I found two girls who were willing to play with me. They didn’t really know who I was but they wanted to play and check me out to see if I was one of the cool kids.
After a few weeks of being in that school and having those ‘friends,’ all of a sudden, I didn’t have them. I was kind of confused as to why– I was struggling to make friends and I finally did. Now where’d they go? They would avoid me at recess, they would avoid me at lunch. And I finally went up to them one day and was like, “Guys! What’s going on? Why aren’t you talking to me anymore?” They said to me, “We can’t talk to you anymore, sorry. Our parents said that we might catch your skin condition.” Can you imagine how that made me feel in grade two, grade three? That hurt. I was alienated. I was embarrassed, to be honest.
When I got a little bit older, I didn’t want to be bullied. So rather than taking myself out of that position, I became the bully. It’s not better on one side than the other. I can tell you because I’ve been on both sides. I didn’t want to be bullied anymore so I kind of took lead with those people who were bullying and said, “Cool! Those are gonna be my friends now because hey, I don’t want to be bullied. I don’t want to be on this side of the spectrum. So I guess the only side is to be on the side. This must be the good side.” So I decided to go on that side. I’d pick on kids and I’d be like, “So ugly! Your hair? Eww who did that?” Rude, right?
Then I came to a realization that I was trying to put myself into a mold that I didn’t fit. And I mean, who’s to say I’m suppose to fit in a mold anyway? I can make my own. So I decided that I was going take myself away from this side and away from this side and make my own side and fit myself a new mold. And that mold is so cliche, but I feel that there’s beauty in everything.
Winnie learned to love herself and now the stunner’s now in fashion ads, walking in runways and kicking it with the likes of Drake, while being appreciated for her unique beauty. Her message to other young women across the world:
I loved myself. And with that, opportunities start to fall into my lap. And I thank God for all of them. Try loving yourself
In addition to Diesel, Desigual has re-upped their contract with the model and has made Winnie the face of their Spring/Summer 2015 “Say Something Nice” campaign.
Winnie photoed with Drake during Super Bowl weekend.
Peep more of her flicks in the gallery.
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