The end of the cookie-cutter model
By Winnie Harlow
inever wanted to be a model, growing up in Toronto, Canada, I was always asked by my friends, who had a T-shirt line or were having a little community runway show, to model for them. I remember a friend telling me, “I can see you on the cover of Vogue.” And I looked at her like, ‘OK, whatever…’ Not because I thought I couldn’t be a model; I just never thought about it at all. But then Instagram was becoming a thing and I began posting pictures of myself, and people were liking them. I thought, ‘You know what, why not give it a shot?’ That was 2013, and the beginning of the time when models who weren’t cookie-cutter pretty were getting booked. Right now, it’s so beautiful that there are so many different people and sizes being represented. Growing up, I would never have imagined someone with vitiligo or freckles on the cover of a magazine. Just the fact that Adwoa Aboah’s gorgeous face was on the cover of British Vogue, wouldn’t have happened before.
When it comes to inclusiveness, the modelling industry still has a lot to do. For example, with hair stylists: just because you’ve worked on one black person’s hair doesn’t mean you know all black hair. There are so many people who are like, “Yeah! I’ve worked on a black girl before. I know black hair.” And then they still reach for the tongs or use high heat.
With makeup artists, we need to have more people who know how to work with someone with a dark skin tone and not have it turn grey or ashy. Even during Fashion Week, I was backstage and put in front of a makeup artist, and I looked at the range of foundation tones she had – she didn’t even have colours dark enough for my skin. If you don’t even have shades dark enough for me, that’s saying a lot. We have to keep educating people.
When a British newspaper ran a picture of me with a caption describing me as a “vitiligo sufferer”, it tore me to shreds. I said to my agent, “Really, again? Is this a joke?” That’s how I feel every single time I see that word placed beside my name. It’s something I see often, so I felt like I should say something. It’s cruel for anyone to describe me as a sufferer, and it takes away from everything else – I’m 100% excelling in everything I do. Today, I represent a different standard of what is traditionally considered beautiful. Sometimes I say there are a million different standards of beauty; sometimes I say there are no standards of beauty. In the end, it’s the same thing: we’re all beautiful.