Breaking Beauty Taboos: The Story of Winnie Harlow

Do you know who Winnie Harlow is? Until a few days ago, I didn’t, or rather, I had seen her but didn’t know her name. I was sure I had noticed her because she has a striking appearance, which is an important trait for a model. “Her peculiarity is the depigmentation of her skin, caused by vitiligo.” This is what I read on a website, but I disagree, because anyone who has seen at least one of her photos will agree with me that her most evident feature is her beauty.

Reading articles that talk about problems and defects, or that emphasize her uncommon skin coloration instead of her beautiful smile or her great willpower, confirms how our society stigmatizes physical imperfections, creating taboos around everything that does not fit conventional beauty standards. Acne, scars, body weight, do they really obscure beauty?

What made me shiver was discovering Winnie’s painful past, especially during school, when she was a victim of bullying and was even beaten by people who were frightened by her diversity, calling her “zebra”. At that point, I decided I wanted to know more about this amazing woman, at least gather all the information I could find online.

I discovered that she had always dreamed of becoming a model since she was a girl, and despite her condition seeming to close doors for her, she kept trying. Thanks to the moral support of Tyra Banks, she decided to participate in “America’s Next Top Model” in 2014, and from there her career took off: she posed for Vogue, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan, appeared in a music video for Eminem, and modeled for Diesel, Swarovski, and Desigual, walking the runways of the most important fashion weeks (Milan, Paris, and New York). Not only that, but in 2018, she was named one of the BBC 100 Women, an award for the most influential and inspiring women worldwide.

Winnie’s strength was such that she became one of the main voices for inclusivity and diversity in the fashion world, a sector that, just like the term “mode” in mathematics, tends to favor conformity.

I believe her example is perfectly fitting to help understand how necessary it is to break beauty stereotypes and to raise awareness that whatever peculiarity differentiates us from others, calling it a defect is as wrong as it is banal.

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