Chantelle Winnie‘s unique beauty landed her on cycle 21 of America’s Next Top Model, after which she went on to score major ad campaigns and spots in New York and Madrid fashion weeks – but her striking complexion was once a major source of ridicule.
“I discovered that I was ‘different’ in the third grade,” the model, 20, told Cosmopolitan. “As the new kid at school, I was trying hard to find my footing. I thought I had made friends with a couple of girls, until they stopped talking to me. When I confronted them, they said their mothers had warned them to stay away, because they might catch my skin condition.”
Winnie – born Chantelle Brown-Young – developed the rare skin condition vitiligo when she was 4 years old. The disorder is believed to destroy cells that produce skin pigment, causing white patches. Despite her condition, Winnie never felt self-conscious about her appearance until elementary school.
“Before that, I had never given much thought to the way I looked,” she said. “Starting with that incident in the third grade, it would define the way people treated me.”
Things escalated when she got to middle school, when the bullying became physical. Winnie was at a basketball game when a classmate mooed at her, and then attacked Winnie when she defended herself.
“To get out of the situation, I let her beat me up,” said the Toronto native. “The next day, she came at me again. This time, I snapped, defending myself extremely well. I never had to fight her again. But it was only the first of many similar incidents.”
The physical assaults continued, leading Winnie to wish she were born without her condition.
“I just tried to get through each day,” she recalled. “I remember sitting by my window, wishing upon the stars that my skin condition would go away. I wondered, ‘Why me?’ ”
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Now, Winnie is comfortable just the way she is.
“People sometimes ask when I learned to love myself,” she said. “But that was not the issue. I didn’t have a problem with myself or my skin. I had a problem with the way people treated me because of my skin. They tried to define me.”
“I had to relearn how to love myself by forgetting the opinions of everyone else and focusing on my opinion of myself,” she continued. “Today, my motto is: You only have one life. Live it for yourself, not for anyone else. Do what the f— you want!”