Winnie Harlow is a Canadian fashion model with vitiligo who has embraced herself and become an celebrated advocate for those with the skin condition. Vitiligo is skin condition that causes loss of pigment in blotches.
In addition to being a gorgeous model and spokesperson for vitiligo, Winnie is best known for being a contestant on America’s Next Top Model in 2014. She has appeared in high-profile modelling campaigns, representing Diesel (Italian clothing brand) and Swarovski (crystals), among other prominent brands. She has also graced the cover of numerous fashion magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Ebony magazine, and attracted over 6.8 million followers on Instagram.
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Winnie wasn’t afraid to strut her stuff on national television in 2014 and she is still being followed by the media today. According to Winnie Harlow, if you see flaws in yourself, then you’re looking at them the wrong way. These are things that make you unique and that makes them a personal strength.
I’ve learned an enormous amount from Winnie about self-acceptance and this is my tribute to her. Here are seven tips on how to boost your self-esteem and better love yourself.
1. Turn The Spotlight on Yourself
Winnie Harlow was born a confident girl, but unfortunately, years of being teased and told she was different because of her vitiligo erased some of her sense of self-worth. As a child, Winnie was bullied and taunted so much that she was forced to remove herself from high school.
After stepping into the spotlight as a model and advocate, Winnie realized that everyone is different and unique and our differences are worthy of celebration. Today, the tables have turned and she is now admired by millions of people on Instagram and on the runway.
From her experience as a model, she’s used to the outside world looking in and voicing admiration. However, outside approval is not the key to boosting your self-esteem, she says.
Instead, Winnie says you should celebrate yourself, even if you’re not a celebrity. Turn the spotlight on yourself so that others can see you, every part of you. As demonstrated by Winnie, when you embrace yourself, others will too.
2. Having a Medical Condition Doesn’t Mean You’re Suffering
It’s true that vitiligo is considered a medical condition. However, even though that’s how it’s classified, it doesn’t mean you’re “suffering” from anything. In fact, it might be the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd in a positive light.
Winnie took a British newspaper to task for referring to her as a “vitiligo sufferer.” She made a post on Instagram in response, noting, “I am a model. And I happen to have Vitiligo. Stop putting these titles on me or anyone else.”
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She turned it around and told her followers that their different features make them unique and they don’t define them. She confirmed that she doesn’t suffer from the condition as the media suggests, but rather suffers from the closed-minded views of others when referring to her.
3. Humans are Humans, Says Winnie Harlow
Winnie is quick to remind people that her condition doesn’t make her different than anyone else, whether they’re an entrepreneur or a model, adding that underneath her skin she has a brain and a skeleton just like every other human being.
One of her main messages is about equality, and she says everyone should be considered equal regardless of skin color, nationality, or sexual orientation.
With this belief in mind, Winnie has been able to dismiss negative comments about her, saying those who say them are not with her time – or her tears. She also empowers you and me to do the same thing.
4. Project Confidence with Your Body
This is something Winnie does on a regular basis on the catwalk while exuding an air of confidence. There’s also research that supports the power of keeping your head up, even if you don’t feel confident.
Standing tall and strong demonstrates confidence to the world. This idea was brought to prominence by Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy, who discovered that people who present in open, expansive, “power poses” perceive themselves as more powerful.
Specifically, Cuddy says there is “very strong evidence that expansive vs. contractive (such as self-hugging) postures have other emotion-related effects, including affecting participants’ recall of positive vs. negative memories, their self-evaluations, their specific emotional state, and their ability to recover from a negative mood.” This TED Talk by Cuddy explaining the value of “power poses” has now been viewed 17 million times.
To project confidence physically, you have to unafraid to be noticed. If you have something unique about you that you’re self-conscious about, don’t let it get in the way of achieving your goals. You won’t get opportunities to advance professionally or personally if you’re always on the sidelines.
In contrast, you’ll be given extraordinary opportunities once you’re willing to share your differences with the world. Even the word extraordinary provides context clues, as it means “extra ordinary” or “beyond ordinary.”
If I’ve learned one thing from Winnie Harlow, it’s to embrace being extraordinary. It may create greater opportunities for you that you ever could have imagined, such rubbing shoulders with Jennifer Lopez on your 25th birthday.
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5. Develop Your Strengths
One of the things that Winnie did best was she found a venue where her strengths could be utilized. She’s happiest and most in her element when she’s modelling. For each of us, it can take some time to figure out what our strengths are and lean into them.
Most importantly, it takes enormous courage to lean into these strengths if we think there’s things about ourselves that might make us unworthy of the spotlight.
When I started my primary business, BioInformant (a stem cell market research firm), I wondered if I could be the face of it as a LGBTQ+ person. The interesting thing is, it did better and better as I shared more about my life, including this intimate story of how I myself became a stem cell patient.
This business now attracts more than a million views per year, and a great deal of that success is due to clients believing in who I am as a person and trusting in me beyond the walls of the business.
If Winnie hadn’t had the courage to step into the spotlight, she wouldn’t have 6.8 million people following her posts on Instagram, she wouldn’t be globetrotting around the world in private jets and helicopters (see below), and she wouldn’t be inspiring millions of others with vitiligo worldwide. She also wouldn’t be inspiring you and me.
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6. Practice Giving Back
Winnie Harlow knows the power of giving back to improve your feelings of self-worth. That is apparent from her collaboration with Me to We, a social enterprise that sells products to fund its charity that builds schools and funds other projects worldwide. She believes in aligning with brands that make a positive impact globally.
Winnie also gives back by being a positive role model for many people, although she doesn’t see herself as a vitiligo spokesperson. However, she’s aware of the impact she is making and says she is proud to be empowering others.
Volunteering can boost your self-esteem by raising your sense of purpose in the world. Not only did more than half of the teenage respondents to a survey say they enjoyed giving their time to a cause, but the conclusion of the study was there can be psychological benefits of volunteering. Interestingly, this effect is even greater when helping strangers than when helping those close to you.
7. Know Your Worth
Winnie Harlow says improving your sense of self-esteem comes down to knowing you’re just as valuable as anyone else, regardless of appearance or ability. She is a living example of someone who has a condition but refuses to be defined by it. Rather, she has embraced and celebrated it.
And the best part is, you don’t have to be a celebrity to follow her advice. It can work for anyone.
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*Feature Photo By: Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)].