hen Stacey McKenzie was just six years old and living in Jamaica she came across a picture of Jean Paul Gaultier and instantly knew she wanted to be a part of the fashion industry. Despite being bullied continually for her looks, she started training herself to be a model. Her family moved to Toronto, and at just 13 McKenzie began cold-calling the city’s modelling agencies. Undeterred by constant rejection and cruel appraisals of her looks, she kept at it. For five long years, she tried and failed to break into the industry.

“They said I was too different-looking, that I wasn’t going to be able to sell anything,” says the 5’ 10” model. “There was nobody that looked like me and they said I wouldn’t be able to make it.”

McKenzie disagreed: she felt confident in her own skin and was determined to make it. In her long and successful career, the former Canada’s Next Top Model judge has walked the catwalks for Christian Lacroix, Kenzo, and even for her idol Jean Paul Gaultier. She has graced the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Essence.

Conventional beauty standards do not always reflect the breadth and diversity of the human family. McKenzie and others like her are changing the face of beauty. The successes of plus-size models and the popularity of non-traditional beauty bloggers — like Tess Holliday and transgender advocate Gigi Gorgeous — are indicative of the contemporary changes taking shape in society.

As a young model, McKenzie often found herself nurturing other aspiring models. She would take these fledglings under her wing and offer them advice and encouragement. “I always wanted to open doors for others that looked different, I wanted designers and photographers to change their minds. I felt like I was on a mission — to make it myself — and to show others that it doesn’t matter how different you look, how unique you are, there’s still a place for you.”

“There are so many different kinds of beauty out there and I think we should celebrate that.”

Her successes and teachings eventually led to a business venture — McKenzie is the founder of Toronto-based fashion school Walk This Way Workshops, in which aspiring models can learn about the life and business of being a model. She encourages women to embrace their unique differences and to feel confident in their own skin. Her school is one of the reasons Vogue recently selected McKenzie as one of the top five Jamaican models changing the face of fashion.

To this day, McKenzie’s passion for breaking down barriers and honouring other like-minded individuals is evident.

“This world is not one-dimensional,” she says. “There are so many different kinds of beauty out there and I think we should celebrate that.”