Children can be cruel to people who look a little bit different.
For Winnie Harlow of Toronto, Canada, her unusual skin condition caused her unlimited grief from the kids she grew up with. Winnie was diagnosed with vitiligo, a condition characterized by depigmentation on parts of the skin, when she was just four years old. The teasing and bullying became so bad, she was forced to change schools several times, and she eventually dropped out of high school.
Winnie is of Jamaican heritage, but her dark skin has patches and streaks of lighter skin where the pigment has disappeared. Growing up, kids called her “cow,” “zebra,” and other nasty names because of her unusual spotted skin tone.
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These remarks wounded her to her core, leading her to contemplate suicide as a teenager.
Thankfully, Winnie found an abiding strength within herself to carry on, and now she’s changing the world’s perception of what it means to be truly beautiful.
Everything started to change for Winnie when American supermodel and TV personality Tyra Banks discovered her on Instagram. Tyra instantly recognized Winnie’s model qualities. Not only that, but she was able to see what all those childhood tormentors could not — Winnie’s unique skin color set her apart in a good way.
Tyra asked Winnie to become the first Canadian contestant on “America’s Next Top Model.” Winnie later went on to dominate the “comeback series” episodes as well. During the show’s taping, Winnie grew more comfortable with looking different, and soon she was fully embracing her look and finally became comfortable in her own skin.
“I had to relearn how to love myself by forgetting the opinions of everyone else and focusing on my opinion of myself,” Winnie said.
Although Winnie didn’t win ANTM, she received the highest average public vote score on the show, and soon her career took off beyond her wildest dreams.
Today, you can find Winnie strutting her stuff on the runway at London Fashion Week, representing major fashion brands, and on the pages of the top glossy fashion magazines.
She’s also public speaker and a huge advocate for self-acceptance and embracing all that makes people unique, inspiring others to recognize that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
“If God wanted me to be black, I’d be black. If God wanted me to be white, I’d be white. But he chose for me to be both and original. So I guess that’s the way I’m supposed to be.”
Winnie can now be spotted everywhere, from Sprite commercials to music videos. She was even in Beyonce’s “Lemonade” video, and you know you’ve really made it when you’re rubbing elbows with Queen Bey!
With her career going strong, this is one bullying story with a happy ending. Yet every day, people are pushed around and made to feel lesser for not looking the way society expects them to look. Winnie is a wonderful example of what can happen when we open our minds and accept people as they are, and not as we think they should be.
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