Top Model's Chantelle Winnie Recalls Being Bullied for Having Vitiligo

Illustration for article titled Top Model's Chantelle Winnie Recalls Being Bullied for Having Vitiligo

Chantelle Brown-Young, one of the most recognizable faces from America’s Next Top Model, recently wrote about her struggles growing up with vitiligo.


The 20-year-old model—you might also know her as Chantelle Winnie or Winnie Harlow—appeared on Cycle 21 of ANTM last year. During the audition, Tyra Banks—being Tyra—referred to her skin condition as “symmetrical fantasticness.”

On her season, Winnie frequently referenced her childhood insecurities, which she went into detail about in a post for Cosmo (via People).

Winnie writes that she developed vitiligo at four years old and says she first realized she was “different” in third grade when she started getting teased about her look:

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.

...Soon after, my mom went to the school and explained to my class that I had a skin condition called vitiligo, which occurs when the cells that produce melanin die or stop functioning. The disease had left me with a loss of skin color in patches across my body — my arms, knees, face. It’s not contagious. There is no cure. Starting with that incident in the third grade, it would define the way people treated me.

On Top Model, Winnie blamed some of her coldness on the bullying she experienced as a kid, which carried over into middle school. She writes:

One night at a basketball game, I sat by myself while a girl mooed at me. I turned around and rolled my eyes. She kept mooing, and I told her to stop. A group of older kids prodded her, saying, “You’re gonna let her talk to you like that?” After the game, outside in the cold, she rushed toward me, shoving me. People crowded around us. I didn’t want to fight. With vitiligo, my skin is sensitive in extreme temperatures. To get out of the situation, I let her beat me up. 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.


After being eliminated from Top Model, Winnie landed ad campaigns for Diesel and Desigual, where she’s a brand ambassador. She was also featured in this Sia video.

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Mia Thompson

My 16-year-old son has vitiligo. I have to say, he has never been bullied or teased for it. Once, in 6th grade, he had a substitute teacher call him out in front of his class for coming back from lunch with a milk mustache. He calmly explained he had a skin disorder. His friends were mortified for him. Maybe kids are nicer now, or more accepting of difference. I hope so. That said, there is treatment for vitiligo now. It’s a combination of phototherapy and topical steriods. It doesn’t work for everyone, and you have to stick with it for a few months before you see results, but it is working for my son. Some insurance companies consider it experimental or cosmetic, but I was able to get it partially covered (“My son has no pigment on 30% of his body. Give me your name. If he gets skin cancer later in life, I’m coming after you.”) He’s doing it at Stanford Medical Center. It’s not so much his appearance — he really was and is fine with how he looks — it’s the increased likelihood of cancer from sun exposure that we wanted to mitigate.