Win­nie Har­low became a pub­lic fig­ure in 2014 when she was hand­picked from Insta­gram by Tyra Banks to com­pete in America’s Next Top Mod­el. And despite being one of the few ANTM alum to actu­al­ly launch a suc­cess­ful career (she has appeared on the cov­ers of Elle Cana­da, Marie Claire Mex­i­co, L’Officiel Italia and mod­eled for Swarovs­ki), she is still com­mon­ly known as ‘the mod­el with vitili­go.’

At her ANTM audi­tion Har­low seemed to embrace the idea of being an advo­cate of uncon­ven­tion­al beau­ty.

“For any­one who thinks neg­a­tive­ly of me or my skin I wan­na help you be able to see the beau­ty in every oth­er per­son that has a dis­abil­i­ty, a mark, a scar. How can I show you the beau­ty in dif­fer­ences.”

In the past two years Har­low has become a pub­lic face of vitili­go. She met a young fan with the skin con­di­tion on The Real, has giv­en a TED Talk about it and was award­ed the 2015 Role Mod­el Award by GQ Por­tu­gal. But in a can­did inter­view for the Jan­u­ary 2017 issue of Elle Cana­da, Har­low made clear that she’s ready to move on from that role. 

“I’m very sick of talk­ing about my skin… I am lit­er­al­ly just a human. I have the same brain as you; there’s a skele­ton under my skin just like yours. It’s not that seri­ous.”

Elle Cana­da

The actress went on to say that she’s not a “vitili­go spokesper­son”

“I don’t put pres­sure on myself. Peo­ple try to put it on me—like I speak for women, for black women. There’s so many oth­er pieces to me. I’m not a vitili­go spokesper­son just because I have vitili­go. I don’t perm my hair any­more, but I’m not a nat­ur­al-hair expert just because it grows out of my head like that. I’m just liv­ing life. And if that inspires you, I’m proud, but I’m not going to put pres­sure on myself to be the best per­son in the world and tell every­one I have vitili­go. If you want to know about it, you can do your research. Either way, I’m not in the dic­tio­nary under ‘vitili­go.’”

Elle Cana­da

When asked whether she’s com­fort­able being a role mod­el, Har­low said she pre­ferred being viewed as an inspi­ra­tion.

“I feel like I am an inspi­ra­tion. That’s the word I pre­fer. I don’t believe that I have to be a role mod­el, some­one to be emu­lat­ed. My mom inspires me, and I take great things from her, but there are things from my mom that I would nev­er do. So I don’t have my moth­er as a role mod­el, but I do have her as a huge inspi­ra­tion.”

Elle Cana­da

More pow­er to Win­nie for speak­ing hon­est­ly about this. (If we’re being real here, the whole ‘role mod­el’ thing seemed a bit incon­sis­tent with her per­son­al­i­ty any­way.)

It is patron­iz­ing to auto­mat­i­cal­ly assign a role of ‘inspi­ra­tion’ to any­one whose appear­ance diverges from the main­stream and has a mod­icum of fame. It often feels like code for, “you leave the house look­ing like that every day so you must be strong.” There is no doubt that it takes a lev­el of resilience to exist and thrive out­side of beau­ty ideals, but per­haps instead of cram­ming peo­ple into an ‘inspi­ra­tion’ box, we should ask our­selves why they are being denied vis­i­bil­i­ty in the first place.

Elle Cana­da

There’s no doubt that Harlow’s skin has giv­en her a unique­ness in the fash­ion indus­try, but the oppor­tu­ni­ties gained from that should nev­er come with the price tag of hav­ing to be a walk­ing talk­ing Insta­gram quote.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­liste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

Leave a Reply

3 Comments on "“I’m Very Sick of Talking About My Skin”: Winnie Harlow Says She’s Done Being a Vitiligo Spokesperson"

Notify of

Oh, please. This is how she got on, and now she wants to be “sick” of it? She’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly pret­ty, she’s def­i­nite­ly not a nice per­son. If she evened out her skin tone, she would be com­plete­ly unre­mark­able. She needs to be thank­ing God for allow­ing her to be born with vitili­go and speak on it every chance she gets.


well she’s famous because of her skin con­di­tion, so she needs to accept that peo­ple are going to want her to talk about it. It’s part of her celebri­ty sta­tus and the rea­son why peo­ple are inter­est­ed in her. With­out it, there would be absolute­ly noth­ing to set her apart from the many oth­er black mod­els out there.

I get both sides. I sym­pa­thize that she wants her “dif­fer­ences” to be seen as a norm. Don’t ask her about her skin con­di­tions, hair or what­ev­er just like you shouldn’t scru­ti­nize some­one with those same appear­ances on the street.  HOWEVER, her pay cheque comes from a vain indus­try. As you say, part of what makes her stand apart from oth­er mod­els, ESPECIALLY black mod­els is that she has vitili­go (which also hap­pens to be very sym­met­ri­cal which isn’t com­mon). Maybe in 100+ a mod­el with vitili­go will be able to nav­i­gate the enter­tain­ment indus­try with­out the same ques­tions that… Read more »