“Life is not easy”
You've probably heard this little phrase countless times .If this sentence is probably true for everyone, it is even more true for some people. I know someone that wouldn’t contradict me on this: Winnie Harlow (a.k.a. Chantelle Brown).
She’s a model. Not the worst job in the world, you may say, but in Chantelle’s case the challenges don’t lie in the profession itself, but in the barriers she had to overcome to exercise it.
“Zebra”, “cow”, Winnie is stigmatised by her classmates as early as age 4. The reason why? Vitiligo, an auto-immune disease causing a partial skin depigmentation. The illness from which Michael Jackson was also suffering.
Kids can be unusually cruel, so at the age of 16, almost depressed, she decided to give up her studies. Yet Chantelle is tall, beautiful, her smile is contagious but she is of a singular beauty most of us were not accustomed to. So, she sought refuge on the internet and in social networks. Internet is the place where two opposing extremes coexist: sometimes ruthless and violent, sometimes able to fall in love with someone talented, unique, special.
Despite her father’s disapproval (he wanted her to join the army), she insisted and contacted a Toronto journalist which, out of curiosity, came to film her. The craze for Winnie started spreading. She then appeared in a female Canadian rapper’s music video that got thousands of “likes”. But Chantelle set her sights on the former Californian top model Tyra Banks(now TV Presenter) and tried to draw her attention throughout her social networks posts.
Her approach has been successful since she received a call from “America’s Next Top Model” producers, who wished to meet her, the year she turned 19. This was no coincidence, given that Tyra Banks is the host of the show. She said about Winnie: “The moment I laid eyes on Chantelle, I wanted her on Top Model. Her beauty is undeniable and her skin breaks down barriers of what is considered beautiful.”
She was eliminated in the second week of the finals but it doesn’t matter, her career was launched. She federates people who suffer from the same disease. They admire her for having turned a weakness into a strength, for not having given up and having stood proudly. She devotes most of her time and energy to this fan community and she nicknamed them “ladybirds”.
Today, she is the cover girl of well-known brands like Desigual or Diesel and is not anymore the only model with an atypical appearance. South-African Thando Hopa, albino, is the face of Vichy sun products. Plus-size model - a heresy in the ultra-thinness world - Myla Dalbesio was selected to incarnate a line of Calvin Klein underwear. Even age is not an obstacle anymore. French Françoise de Staël, born in 1931, displayed her elegance through Petit Bateau and Krys advertising campaigns.
Now difference sales, thanks to Winnie and the others. They have changed attitudes, disrupted things, profoundly and permanently. They are the architects of a revolution.
Words by Rémi Quentinet
Translated by Dylan Tang
Photos courtesy of Winnie Harlow