A story of love, loss and second chances by Nikita Singh, releasing this Valentine’s Day.
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Winnie Harlow is a model of Jamaican descent, who has made peace with the fact that she is living with vitiligo, and lives her life to the full despite the issues she faced as a child.
“I am happy with my skin, and I’m proud of my skin, which is why I wear it so boldly. But if a job wanted me to, say, try a smoky eye and cover the vitiligo around my eye, I wouldn’t have a problem with that” – Winnie Harlow
I am going to talk about a Canadian fashion model who is living with Vitiligo – something that many men who can only see beauty skin deep might have an issue with. But who cares?
Before I narrate the story of Winnie Harlow, and the lessons which we can take home, let us understand Vitiligo.
It is a skin ailment where the pigment cells known as melanocytes don’t produce melanin or the dark pigment in the hair or skin leaving white patches on the affected areas. Though it is not a dangerous or infectious disease, it can cause psychological trauma due to the social discrimination faced by the person living with Vitiligo.
Face2face Africa says that it is estimated that 100 million worldwide are affected with this disorder. Though there is no cure, a dermatologist may prescribe topical creams and ointments for better pigmentation. Other treatments include Laser technology or surgery, but the results vary due to the unevenness of the pigmentation across the skin which may look like blotches.
But let me say to a world of testosterone filled men looking at women with eyes full of lust; there are gorgeous women living with Vitiligo, but who still have the guts to break the stereotype.
Here is the success story of one such woman Winnie Harlow, who broke stereotypes, and leads us as an example. Born as Chantelle Brown-Young on July 27, 1994 in Toronto, Ontario, Harlow, who is of Jamaican ancestry, was diagnosed with this disease at the tender age of four. She soon fell a victim to the endless bullying in school with her classmates naming her cow, zebra and a lot more. To avoid this harassment she had to switch different schools, and after dropping out from high school she even contemplated suicide.
However even after such haranguing experience of being bullied by her own classmates and peers, nothing could deter Harlow. Her first stint as a model was in year 2013 where YouTube superstar Shannon Boodram saw her pictures on facebook and offered her a shoot for the music video “Natural Me”. She was discovered on Instagram by America’s Next Stop Model host Tyra Banks. Post her discovery she was among the fourteen finalists in 2014. However there were rounds of elimination and Harlow got permanently eliminated on the thirteenth episode. Despite this, she became the model for the Spanish casual clothing brand Desigual and was their official brand representative.
Modeling ran in her blood and she soon became the most loved and recognizable faces on the international fashion scene. States Vogue that she had featured in a Beyonce music video, walked the runway for everyone from Marc Jacobs to Dior, boasts 2.4 million Instagram followers and has hosted a TEDxTalk about her skin condition – vitiligo – titled “My Story Is Painted on My Body”, which has over 800,000 views on YouTube. She spoke about her perspective on fashion, image, and understanding beauty – in which she stated, “there is beauty in everything. Know for yourself what beauty is rather than looking to a magazine or even me for what beauty is. Know it in your heart and make your own mold for what beauty is”.
For her latest project, Harlow has teamed up with Burt’s Bees for their campaign #BringBackTheBees.
She became quite vocal about her abuse and bullying and released a personal essay in 2015 which was appreciated all across the globe. It was in the year 2016 she was featured in the Sprite television commercial created by Coca Cola company. Sprite company on Instagram released a statement saying “Winnie Harlow doesn’t need anyone telling her who she is. She shows up and shows out on her own terms”.
To add to her awards she has won the Gala Spa Awards in year 2015 as a beauty idol and Portuguese GQ men of the year in the same year 2015 as a role model.
So is there a lesson for all of us from this young woman who had once tried to commit suicide? Yes we all have. Open up with your bullying stories. Schools are the hybrid grounds of such bullying culture. Do not spare these people who mock and ridicule you. Show your courage and fight back the abuse. If you are left with no friends then so be it. Just know you alone are good enough.
And do not lampoon or laugh at any person suffering from any disorder. The persons living with Vitiligo may already have their own stresses, and you need not add to the misery by calling them cow, zebra etc. As I mentioned earlier do not spare anyone who mocks you.
Just fight it out. You are good enough. You are either beautiful or as ugly as you believe you are. You define your beauty. That’s not a power anyone can have over you.
Apart from Winnie Harlow I would also like to mention the names of two power women living with vitiligo: Enam Heikeens Honya, yes she too fought back suicide and Leleti Khumalo. Look at them as an inspiration and forge ahead in long strides. To have vitiligo should not deter you from following your passion and certainly suicide is not the solution.
I conclude this essay with this short poem of mine:
I shine in my own way,
Yes I am a woman
A rising sun myself
I shine my light in miraculous ways.
I am my own best friend
As I know the meaning of self love
Do not judge me people
As I am a woman
A rising sun myself.
Watch Winnie Harlow speak here:
Image source: FreeWallpapers
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