Reasons to Love Toronto Now: because Chantelle Winnie is redefining beauty

Reasons to Love Toronto Now: because Chantelle Winnie is redefining beauty

(Image: Courtesy of CBS Studios International) (Image: Courtesy of CBS Studios International)
 

For decades, modelling has been the most exclusive profession on earth, restricting its ranks to underweight women with mathematical facial proportions and skin as white as a dim sum dumpling. This year, however, the genetically blessed club has cracked its door open ever so slightly to admit Chantelle Winnie, a 20-year-old Mississauga model with vitiligo, the pigment-degrading disorder responsible for Michael Jackson’s skin lightening. Winnie was diagnosed at age four; in middle school, classmates mooed at her or called her Zebra. She dropped out of school at 16 and set her mind to modelling—because she also happens to have pillowy lips, cat-curved eyes, Grace Jones cheekbones and a leggy five-foot-10-inch frame. And those cream-coloured patches are almost perfectly symmetrical, covering her body like a dazzling inverse Rorschach test.

Toronto agencies rejected her, but Winnie was undeterred. Like a proper self-made millennial, she promoted herself on social media, quickly racking up 628,000 followers with sexy selfies that looked unlike anyone else online. That’s where Tyra Banks of America’s Next Top Model spotted Winnie and plucked her for this past season. The show launched her career as both a serious model and a voice for changing beauty standards. She’s since booked campaigns with streetwear mega-brand Diesel, adorned Times Square billboards as the face of the Spanish label Desigual, walked in New York and London fashion weeks, and delivered a TED talk called “Painted on My Body,” arguing for greater acceptance of difference in fashion—and in the world at large.