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“My skin doesn’t define me”: Model Winnie Harlow speaks out against beauty ideals

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Winnie Harlow has spoken out about the way in which her vitiligo changes people’s opinions of her, in a video for the BBC’s 100 Women season.

The fashion model, known for covering magazines from Vogue, to Hunger, is the first to be this successful, with vitiligo – a skin condition that causes some parts of the skin to lose pigment.


Read more: A debate on feminism and body image


“People have an idea of who I am or what I should stand for, solely based on how I look, or what they’ve heard about me and that’s not necessarily who I am,” she says.

Harlow talks about how she was born confident, not knowing that there was “anything different about me”, but school bullies teased her for her skin condition, making her feel like there was something wrong, and that she shouldn’t be confident.

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Winnie Harlow

“My whole childhood, I never thought anything was different about me. My family never treated me like anything was different – it was more so when I started going to school,” she says, “and I was told that I was different and I was teased because I was different that made me think that there was something wrong with me.”

The model explains how changing her focus from other people’s opinions of her, to her own, helped her regain her confidence, but rejects the label of brave, as it is a thinly veiled insult.

“People will say things like ‘oh my gosh you’re so brave for going out and being yourself’ and I’m like ‘no I’m not brave, I’m confident.’

“Saying brave to me about going outside and being confident in my skin, implies that there’s a problem with my skin and I must need a pat on the back for being confident to go outside looking like this.”

Having vitiligo and being in the public eye, though, has caused Harlow to be viewed as what she calls a “superhero for kids with skin conditions,” but it’s a title she did not give herself.

“I don’t think that’s my job just because I have a skin condition. It’s not that I’m ashamed of having vitiligo or that I don’t like it or that I use it to get to where I am and now I’m trying to get away from it – there’s no getting away from it, it is a part of me but it isn’t who I am, it doesn’t define me,” she says.


Read more: Harnaam Kaur on overcoming bullying and embracing her natural beauty


Harlow says that only when the fashion industry employs diverse models as standard practice, will it stop becoming a “trend or a statement.”

The video forms part of the BBC’s 100 Women season for 2016, which seeks better representation for women in the corporation’s output.

By selecting 100 inspirational women, from entrepreneurs, fashion icons, activists, writers and others, the BBC hope to spread their positive messages and host debates and reports.

See more at bbc.com/100women

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