Win­nie Har­low, happy in her skin

Model and ac­tivist Win­nie Har­low learnt long ago to ig­nore the haters and be com­fort­able in her own skin


SHE was mer­ci­lessly mocked for her skin con­di­tion and bul­lied for years in a world that shuns im­per­fec­tion. But model Win­nie Har­low is proud of the vi­tiligo that sets her apart – and to show her days of hid­ing are long gone she re­cently posted a nearly nude selfie on In­sta­gram.

She shared the snap with her 2,6 mil­lion fol­low­ers along with a mes­sage of self­love. “The real dif­fer­ence isn’t my skin,” she wrote. “It’s the fact that I don’t find my beauty in the opin­ions of oth­ers. I’m beau­ti­ful be­cause I know it. Cel­e­brate your unique beauty to­day (and ev­ery day)!”

Her com­ments sec­tion ex­ploded, with peo­ple lav­ish­ing praise on the 23-yearold, call­ing her “beau­ti­ful”, “amaz­ingly unique” and “a spe­cial gem”.

“You’ve helped me em­brace my vi­tiligo,” one fan wrote. “If I ever have any doubt I just look to you as an ex­am­ple of self-love. Thank you!”

The Cana­dian beauty – who de­fied the odds to be­come one of the big­gest names in the mod­el­ling in­dus­try – has spo­ken openly about the mock­ing she en­dured while grow­ing up, un­til she re­alised her opin­ion was all that re­ally mat­tered.

“The only rea­son I didn’t like my skin was be­cause I was told it wasn’t what’s right. Or I was told it wasn’t nor­mal. But who’s to say that?

“Even­tu­ally I learnt that my opin­ion of my­self mat­ters so much more than any­one else’s and I wish I’d known it ear­lier. One day I just didn’t give a f**k any more.”

Her em­pow­er­ing stance hasn’t gone un­no­ticed among her celebrity peers – peo­ple such as Bey­oncé.

Last year the pop su­per­star picked Win­nie to ap­pear in her ground­break­ing visual al­bum Lemon­ade, along­side a host of fa­mous faces in­clud­ing ten­nis star Ser­ena Wil­liams and ac­tress Amandla Sten­berg.

Win­nie has also ap­peared in mu­sic videos for Eminem and The Black Eyed Peas and can be seen in Bey­oncé’s po­lit­i­cally charged an­them Free­dom, which earned a Grammy nom­i­na­tion for best rap/sung per­for­mance.

Of all her celebrity col­lab­o­ra­tions, work­ing with Bey­oncé is the one that re­ally stood out.

“I wanted to thank her for ac­knowl­edg­ing me as a strong black woman and up­lift­ing and con­tin­u­ing to em­power us all,” Win­nie says. “That made her so happy. She said that’s ex­actly what she wanted to do. I’m so happy to be a part of her iconic story now.”

But Win­nie is carv­ing her own iconic story – and her jour­ney from picked-on kid to con­fi­dent cat­walk queen is both brave and in­spir­ing.

DI­AG­NOSED at age four with vi­tiligo, the same pig­men­ta­tion con­di­tion pop icon Michael Jack­son had, Win­nie ( born Chantelle BrownYoung) didn’t have it easy grow­ing up in Toronto. “I was called names like cow, ze­bra and all man­ner of dis­parag­ing slurs. The de­spair that it brought was so un­bear­ably de­hu­man­is­ing that I wanted to kill my­self.”

The bul­ly­ing even­tu­ally got so bad she dropped out of high school to be home­schooled in­stead. But that was “pos­si­bly the best thing that could’ve hap­pened, be­cause I found a re­ju­ve­nated sense of self ”, she says.

“I learnt to love who I am de­spite what any­one would say about or to me. This gave me the courage to re­ally stand up to any­one and any ob­sta­cle in my life.”

With her re­newed self-con­fi­dence she started to pur­sue a ca­reer in en­ter­tain­ment jour­nal­ism, but af­ter a chance meet­ing with a pho­tog­ra­pher her in­ter­est turned to mod­el­ling. “She [the pho­tog­ra­pher] en­cour­aged me to con­tinue push­ing. From there I started to build my­self up by lever­ag­ing so­cial me­dia.”

Her big break came af­ter she heard that Amer­ica’s Next Top Model was cast­ing for its 21st sea­son. She im­me­di­ately asked all her In­sta­gram fol­low­ers to tag the show’s host and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, Tyra Banks, hop­ing to draw at­ten­tion to her pho­tos. Clearly it worked as soon af­ter that she was con­tacted by the show’s pro­duc­ers. “Ini­tially I didn’t be­lieve it, but I fol­lowed through and ended up be­ing on the show.”

She came sixth out of 14 con­tes­tants but her stun­ning pho­tos and bub­bly per­son­al­ity made a huge im­pres­sion – and the in­ter­na­tional fash­ion world sat up and took note.

“Af­ter Tyra gave me that op­por­tu­nity it was my time,” she re­flects.

It cer­tainly was. She’s gone on to land ma­jor ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns, in­clud­ing with cloth­ing com­pany Diesel and cooldrink brand Sprite.

Last year also saw her be­ing cho­sen as one of the BBC’s 100 Women – a se­ries that looks at women who strive to make a dif­fer­ence in the world.

There’s no doubt she’s also paving the way for other models with skin con­di­tions.

“There are a lot more women of colour be­ing rep­re­sented in a beau­ti­ful light,” says Dian­dra For­rest (27), the first woman with al­binism to be signed to a ma­jor mod­el­ling agency. “The more models there are with dif­fer­ent looks, the more role models there will be.”

Win­nie agrees the in­dus­try is “open­ing up” but says more change is needed. “The in­dus­try needs to ac­cept var­i­ous forms of beauty as a stan­dard, as op­posed to an oc­cur­rence now and then.

“I want to see dif­fer­ent faces on the cov­ers of mag­a­zines, the stars of movies, fea­tured on bill­boards . . . It’s time we open the mar­ket up and em­brace peo­ple from all walks of life.” ER strik­ing looks have made waves for her in the ro­mance de­part­ment too. Win­nie has been linked to fel­low Cana­dian and rap sen­sa­tion Drake (30), who gives her a shoutout on his track Know Your­self.

And then there’s ace Bri­tish For­mula 1 driver Lewis Hamil­ton (32).

In July she was spot­ted canoodling with him in Mykonos, Greece, and ear­lier this month they were seen leav­ing the GQ Men of the Year Awards in Lon­don – al­though nei­ther has con­firmed a ro­mance.

De­spite be­ing such a suc­cess, there’s one thing the feisty beauty re­fuses to be called – and that’s a role model. “I’m an in­spi­ra­tion; that’s the word I pre­fer,” she says. “I don’t be­lieve I have to be a role model, some­one to be em­u­lated.

“I’m just a young woman liv­ing my life and if peo­ple find some­thing in that that’s in­spi­ra­tional, then I’m happy. But I make mis­takes. I swear a lot.”

She ac­knowl­edges she does be­come frus­trated hav­ing to talk about her skin so much. “I’m so sick of it. I’m lit­er­ally just a hu­man. I have the same brain as you; there’s a skele­ton un­der my skin just like yours. It’s not that se­ri­ous.”

Her skin con­di­tion “shouldn’t be a box peo­ple try to keep me in but I feel like that’s go­ing to be a bat­tle through­out my life”, she says.

“All I can do is try to fight it for the next gen­er­a­tion. I’m the first of my kind, but one day I hope I’m not the model with vi­tiligo. I hope I’ll just be Win­nie Har­low the model.”

Win­nie made head­lines for post­ing this nearly nude selfie on­line.

Win­nie has been ro­man­ti­cally linked to rap­per Drake (FAR LEFT) and more re­cently to For­mula 1 ace Lewis Hamil­ton (LEFT).

LEFT: Win­nie strut­ting her stuff on the run­way. ABOVE LEFT: She shared this pic on In­sta­gram to wish her mom, Lisa Brown, a happy birth­day. ABOVE RIGHT: As a child, pic­tured with her dad, Wind­sor Young.

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