Celebrity

Supermodel Winnie Harlow Is Defying Beauty Standards And Changing Social Media

Winnie Harlow/Instagram

From a young age onward, it is embedded in our minds that we have to look a certain way in order to be considered beautiful.

Our society's high and unattainable standards are molded in a way that places a huge emphasis on physical beauty. This usually means a person isn't thought to be "beautiful" unless they have a skinny body, perfect skin, slender legs, etc.

But these days, thanks to a generation of unapologetic women like Winnie Harlow, we're seeing a shift in how beauty is perceived.

Harlow, whose real name is Chantelle Brown-Young, is one of the biggest names in the current international fashion scene, and she's anything but typical.

Making history

The Canadian model was diagnosed with the chronic skin condition vitiligo, which results in the de-pigmentation of the skin, at the age of four. Despite the hurdles she had to overcome, including bullying from other children and rejection by agencies, Harlow still stood her ground and followed her dreams.

In just seven years, things came full circle for Harlow. She went from working as a lingerie store employee to walking the runway at one of the world's most extravagant events, the annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.

Harlow broke down a barrier by being the first model with vitiligo to achieve this feat.

Harlow, who was first discovered on YouTube, famously appeared on America's Next Top Model in 2014. Although she wasn't crowned winner, she would go on to enjoy immense success.

A favorite of the public and designers, Harlow has since walked in shows for everyone from Dior to Marc Jacobs and Coach. She appeared in several magazines, including Vogue, starred in campaigns for Nike and H&M, and was recently featured in Beyoncé's Lemonade visual album.

But not only is Harlow taking the fashion world by storm, the outspoken supermodel is also a constant inspiration to young girls and women.

"I want to [stand for] all women. Every single woman."

In addition to bringing some long overdue awareness to a skin condition that isn't discussed nearly enough in public, the 24-year-old is opening up the path for aspiring models who don't necessarily fit the ideal. She's challenging the established norms and standing up for vulnerable groups in our society.

"Why is there a stigma around being different when we’re all different?" Harlow said in an interview with Vogue. "Representation is so important, and I want to [stand for] all women. Every single woman."

What's especially interesting about Harlow is that she isn't just letting her catwalk do the talking. With over five million Instagram followers, Harlow is an influencer whose voice is capable of making a difference, and she isn't taking that for granted.

The model was recently embroiled in a huge controversy after speaking out about how the next generation of models should have more realistic expectation their career prospects after appearing on ANTM.

Harlow spoke her "truth" in saying that she "thought that [ANTM] was going to be a career starter, but it was really like a reality TV show... That's not what I signed up for."

In an appearance on Watch What Happens Live! with Andy Cohen, Harlow explained that she "really started [modelling] after the show because that really didn't do anything for my career...which it doesn't do for any model's career realistically."

Creating change

Harlow took to Instagram to explain what exactly she meant when she made those remarks and clarify that she's just looking out for the younger generation of aspiring models.

"It has nothing to do with being ungrateful, and more over nothing to do with 'shade' to Tyra," she wrote. "She was the first person of higher status to make me feel like I could be a model and not only am i grateful for that, it's something I'll never forget."

She added that after the show ended, she had a hard time finding gigs because "no one would book me and no agency would sign me because of the Reality TV stigma."

Harlow said she had no choice but to seek work elsewhere, which saw her traveling to Europe, where she wasn't as well known yet. She just wished she had known that before competing on the show "you could be successful off the show in some ventures."

"My truth is, I stand by what I said and I say it because I don't want girls thinking it's a jump start to a modelling career because of me," she explains. "I learned that the best thing to do to become a model and to be taken seriously is to take plain head shots and find a reputable modelling agency."

Other ANTM contestants came to Harlow's defense immediately, including Tatiana Elizabeth Price. Price, who appeared on cycle 23, explained that "being a MODEL and being a reality TV personality are two different things in the actual industry."

The backlash Harlow experienced for simply speaking her mind has inspired her to make a change in the way we communicate online.

In addition to calling out people behind the screens for their hateful remarks, Harlow recently launched on short-video app sensation TikTok, a platform known for its fun and authentic user content.

"We've all been exposed to hateful comments on social media. I love that TikTok has moved against that and embraces individuality. Let's celebrate being different. Not fitting in.  And the fact that our differences are apart of who we are," Harlow wrote on Instagram.

If you'd like to be a part of the critical change alongside Harlow, you can download the TikTok app for iPhone or for Android.

In a world where people are becoming more afraid to speak their mind, Harlow's honesty is a breath of fresh air. We can't wait to see what other achievements she has in her bright future!

Awa has been writing for Shared for 3 years. She is a serial snacker who unapologetically loves celebrity gossip. Drop her a line at awa@shared.com.