Winnie Harlow Is A Supermodel Who Happens To Have Vitiligo

Winnie Harlow was diagnosed with vitiligo at 4, and this is how it’s going.

Instagram / Winnie Harlow 

“I’m not a Vitiligo Sufferer, I’m not a Vitiligo model. I am Winnie. I am a model. And I happen to have Vitiligo. Stop putting these titles on me or anyone else. I AM NOT SUFFERING!“

These were Winnie Harlow’s words in an Instagram post caption in 2018. 1 to 2 in 100 people have vitiligo, and Harlow would love you to know that these people are not suffering. Most people with vitiligo are of good health status. 

Vitiligo can affect people of all races and colors, but it is more noticeable in brown and black-skinned individuals. It manifests as white patches or segments of skin, and the majority of the discomfort is associated with how the skin looks. 

Although some make use of makeup to cover the affected areas, Winnie Harlow has learned to live with it. 

Who Is Winnie Harlow? 

Instagram / Winnie Harlow 

Winnie Harlow is more than the “supermodel with vitiligo”. Born Chantelle Whitney Brown-Young in 1994, Harlow is a Jamaican-Canadian fashion model who debuted in the modeling scene as a contestant on the 21st season of America’s Next Top Model.

The runway star’s nickname was inspired by the children’s fiction book, Winnie The Pooh and the American actress, Marilyn Monroe. Per her interview with Women’s Health UK, “Harlow” originated from the surname of Marilyn Monroe’s own inspiration, Jean Harlow. 

At the age of 4, Winnie Harlow developed vitiligo, a condition that isolated her from her peers and even adults who did not understand that it was not contagious. From being called cruel names like “cow” and “zebra” to dropping out of school because of how bad it was, Halow’s childhood featured a number of challenges. 

Her African confidence came in clutch as Harlow spent her homeschooling phase learning to love herself and stand up to people. It became easier to not care what people said about her skin. At 21, the experience from America’s Next Top Model helped propel her into a full-blown modeling career. 

In her article for Cosmopolitan, she wrote: “I didn’t want to do it to be famous. I just wanted to do it because I loved it. But then I started modeling, and my whole life changed—suddenly, I was famous…as “the model with vitiligo.”

What Is Vitiligo? 

Instagram / Vitiligo.Nigeria

Pronounced vit-ih-LIE-go, vitiligo is an autoimmune condition that results in loss of color in some parts of the skin. Skin color is typically determined by melanin content. In cases where the melanin-producing cells die or malfunction due to an attack from the immune system, vitiligo. 

Autoimmune conditions like vitiligo are the result of an overactive immune system. The immune system is the body’s natural defense against toxins, infections and anything harmful that gets in. An autoimmune disease comes about when your immune system cannot differentiate between your healthy cells and the harmful invaders. 

Vitiligo is characterized by white skin, hair and even discoloration on the inside of the mouth. It can appear on any part of the body. Vitiligo can be stable, progressing to parts other than where it originated over time. It is also possible for the affected areas to suddenly get their pigment back. 

Besides being an autoimmune condition, vitiligo can be transferred over generations. Your consultation with your physician typically includes questions about family history and physical exams such as blood tests. 

Like most skin conditions, vitiligo can be challenging, especially because of the social distress the appearance of your skin may bring. Treatment options range from cortisone creams to pigmentation surgery and depend on what your doctor suggests. Seeing a dermatologist is always a smart move!

Embracing Your Differences With Harlow 

Instagram / Winnie Harlow 

Winnie Harlow went from being isolated to being the center of attention on several fashion issues. In 2018, she walked the Victoria’s Secret Fashion runway with her vitiligo spots in full view, becoming the first to do it with a visible skin condition. 

With her career, Harlow pioneered an era of skin inclusivity in the beauty industry. More brands now employ models with vitiligo, and people put effort into understanding what this condition entails. Mattel even has Barbie and Ken dolls with vitiligo now. 

“I was the first person with the condition to walk the runway at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, I was featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, I’ve graced the cover of countless magazines around the world, and now I’m a global brand ambassador for Puma.”

Harlow loves inspiring other people living with vitiligo and raising awareness about this condition, but she recognizes that she can do so much more that’s unrelated to her skin condition. 

“To be honest, I’ve dealt with way worse traumas than my skin condition. To put me into this one small box bothers me. I’m grateful to do what I love everyday, but I’m excited for people to talk about my next chapter of Winnie. It’s a new era anchored in activism, balance, and becoming a founder of my own skincare brand.”


Not everyone wants to be a fashion model or brand owner, but Harlow’s life is a message to everyone who feels held back by vitiligo. In her TED Talk – “How I Define Beauty”, she asked, “Why is there a stigma around being different when we’re all different?” 

Embrace your differences; your skin and all it comes with.