When Chantelle Brown-Young was 4 years old, a white patch appeared on her stomach. She was diagnosed with the skin pigment disorder vitiligo, and over the next several years, she watched more white patches pop up all over her body. She was bullied, people called her names, and friends distanced themselves from her because their parents were concerned they’d “catch” it from her (even though vitiligo isn’t contagious). But she hasn’t let any of the hardship over the years stop her — and tonight, Young-Brown makes her debut on the 21st cycle of America’s Next Top Model.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, one to two million people in the United States have been diagnosed with vitiligo. Most people generally develop it before their 40th birthday, and it affects all races and sexes. Growing up was tough; the Toronto native told TODAY.com that she was called “cow” and “zebra” in middle and high school, and that puberty was even more difficult than usual. “You’re already having changes you don’t understand, plus this skin condition that I didn’t ask for that has to do with other people’s opinions and other people’s bullying.”
But then, at the age of 16, Brown-Young was discovered by a Toronto photographer who encouraged her to model. She began posting photos of her modeling on Instagram, which led to Tyra Banks herself catching notice of her — and in spite of the fact that the now-20-year-old was still relatively green, her assistant got in touch with her and asked her to compete. “I’d only been modeling for maybe a year before she found me, so I was pretty fresh,” Brown-Young said to People. “The fact that she wanted me so badly for her show will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
Brown-Young joins Cheri Lindsay of the recent Dermablend Camo Confessions campaign as an inspiration to those with vitiligo, as well as a whole host of other folks breaking down beauty boundaries. From body builder Blake Beckford, to Miss Idaho winner Sierra Sandison, to model Bethany Townsend, there’s a growing movement toward acceptance and celebration. As Bustle’s Tori Telfer noted in her piece about the Dermablend campaign, the message was that “the ‘real them’ is them, their entirepersonhood, and not simply their faces.” It’s about the whole package — which is what I think everyone from Brown-Young to Townsend are about. People are more than the sum of their parts, and all of this is proof of the fact.
Even without ANTM, Brown-Young is already making waves: Desigual announced on Aug. 4 that they had signed her as the face of its Autumn-Winter 2014 campaign. Why is the name connected with the campaign in the press release is Winnie Harlow? “Chantelle Winnie is my birth name.Chantelle Winnie Harlow, I call her my Sasha Fierce,” Brown-Young explained, calling up Beyonce’s alter-ego during a conversation with TODAY.com.
As Cheri Lindsay said in her Dermablend Camo Confession, “Can I still live with this and be successful? Hell yes.” Ayyyy-men.
Catch Chantelle Brown-Young on America’s Next Top Model tonight at 9 p.m. on the CW.