Vitiligo affects one in every one hundred people. It is a disorder in which white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body and is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks parts of an individual’s own body. With vitiligo, the immune system destroys melanocytes, the cells that make pigment in the skin.

Diagnosis of vitiligo carries many implications for those living with the disorder. Most will embark on a combined treatment of traditional and alternative medications and a course of light therapy, in which patients are exposed to ultraviolet A (UVA) or UVB light.

The emotional aspects of living with vitiligo are very real but often overlooked. Many children who have the disorder face egregious teasing and bullying. The disorder can affect people’s emotional and psychological wellbeing with many people reporting feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, shame and depression. Young people in particular are prone to bouts of anxiety, depression and feelings of alienation. Children and young adults tend to be image conscious and can find the disorder and its symptoms devastating.

"The emotional aspects of living with vitiligo are very real but often overlooked. Many children who have the disorder face egregious teasing and bullying."

A meteoric rise

Growing up in Etobicoke, on the western periphery of Toronto, Winnie faced her fair share of bullying, with her peers calling her nasty names and, on some occasions, being physically abusive. “I don’t think my skin condition affected my self-esteem as much as the people around me affected my self-esteem,” says the twenty-year old. “It was other people’s opinions.”

A chance encounter with Toronto journalist Shannon Boodram led to a YouTube video about Winnie and her condition. The video quickly garnered more than 150,000 hits. It was Boodram who encouraged Winnie, who was just sixteen years old at the time, to consider modelling.

“She called me and told me that I should keep modelling, that the camera loved me and that I was a natural,” says Winnie. “She actually didn’t believe that had been my first photo shoot.”

Winnie soon found herself the subject of a media frenzy with features published in The Daily Mail and Access Hollywood but it was in 2014 that Winnie became a household name when she competed on Tyra Banks’ legendary America’s Next Top Model.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

In an industry rife with outdated stereotypes of beauty, Winnie is redefining global standards of beauty. “I believe beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” says Winnie, who is the face of global fashion
brand, Desigual.

Many people are slow to embrace change and are fearful of anything outside the norm but, in Winnie’s own words, it is these differences that make us unique and authentic. Striving to make fashion less aspirational and more inspirational, Winnie continues to be her true self and inspire people around
the world.

“I always say you should focus on your own opinion of yourself, rather than the opinions of others.”