Rare Skin Condition Won’t Keep This Top Model Down

by Holly Trantham

You’ve no doubt seen her somewhere—maybe in one of two episodes of ANTM, in pics on  her popular Instagram account, or in the giant Desigual ads on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Chantelle Winnie is a modeling force to be reckoned with, and it’s in part due to her rare skin condition, vitiligo.

We’re so bored with used to the homogeneity we see among runway models, so Winnie’s quite obvious physical difference is a welcome departure. What was once a hindrance to her well being is now her source of empowerment. Every photo she’s in is completely striking; no item of clothing can compete with her looks. The fact that she owes her success to her skin condition is no doubt a form of objectification, but there’s no denying her power as a model. If it’s her vitiligo that’s going to get her the modeling career she wants, she’s not afraid to use that to her benefit.

For her own sake, she doesn’t define herself or her worth by her skin; in an article, she states, “If one day I’m all black I’m still a model. If one day I’m all white I’m still a model. I am not my skin. I am a model with a skin condition.”

Winnie’s TEDx Talk encourages others to adopt the mantra she herself lives by: find beauty in everything. Perhaps that seems easy for a fashion model to say, but Winnie speaks without a hint of self righteousness—she was bullied as a kid for her condition, which is shared by 1% of the world’s population and eventually decided to cope by becoming a bully herself. She had to learn from this mistake, and decided the best thing for herself was to seek out the beauty in all things—not just by how fashion magazines and social media define it. 

Winnie’s self-acceptance in a world that constantly threatens rejection to any sort of difference is truly powerful. We’d love to see more models like her on runways and in photos—that is, models who are “different,” who represent every faction of society. The fashion industry needs models of different skin tones, sizes, and shapes. It’ll be a long time before difference (or, you know, just fair representation) in the modeling world becomes normalized, but Winnie’s success gives us hope. 

Images c/o The Guardian Photos by Mary Rozzi

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