Plenty of people — ex-boyfriends, friends, industry people — have doubted Melanie Gaydos’ ability to break through as a model, but she never did.
The 28-year-old was born with ectodermal dysplasia, a rare genetic disorder that limited her body from fully developing in womb. Gaydos lacks hair, most teeth, nails and any soft bone or tissue.
Gaydos says she was “always very shy,” growing up, but not because of how she looked.
“Taken outside of any judgment based situation such as school or peer interaction activities, it had never bothered me,” she tells PEOPLE. “It took me a few years to understand why other people had treated me differently or reacted to me the way that they had, which was always out of curiosity, judgment or fear.”
As a kid, Gaydos was constantly involved in dance classes and school plays, and was fascinated with performing, but wasn’t sure about modeling.
“Modeling was kind of a taboo topic for me because even though I ‘had the body’ I did not have the face,” she says. “[But] my grandmother had always encouraged me to walk tall, be strong and embrace my femininity.”
As an art student living in New York City in 2011, Gaydos decided she was ready to take the leap and try modeling, despite reservations from the people around her.
“I knew that with my individual sense of self and artistic vision, I would be able to go far and be successful in my career,” she says.
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Gaydos has worked with tons of photographers in her career so far, but says “it’s still just the beginning,” and hopes to expand people’s views towards more unique models like herself.
“I’ve had many people tell me I would never be able to do runway, or commercial work and that I was forever niched into a certain category. I don’t believe that the world or the human mind works this way because mine doesn’t,” she says. “Even though society is limited, the human mind has so much potential and possibility that it is not even aware of.”
Gaydos says her success shows that women don’t have to fit into a certain box to break into the industry.
“Women can be anyone and anything they want regardless of situation, and that is the most beautiful possibility,” she says. “The world is not always what it seems to be, and as individuals we have limitless opportunities and possibilities — all we have to do is try and just go for it.”