Parents would actually tell their children not to sit with or be near Chantelle Winnie because if they did, they would catch whatever was going on with her skin, Winnie—now a fashion model well-known for her skin condition, vitiligo—recalled during a recent interview with Cosmopolitan.
That kind of bullying came from kids, too.
"I really wanted to make new friends. But kids called me a cow and mooed at me," Winnie said. "I remember sitting by my window, wishing upon the stars that my skin condition would go away. I wondered, 'Why me?' "
A turning point came when a Toronto journalist saw Winnie's Facebook page and told her that she was "strikingly beautiful"—so much so that the journalist made a YouTube video of Winnie and encouraged her to pursue modeling.
After easing herself backstage at modeling shows, booking a few of her own and sending her photos to modeling agents, she caught the eye of Tyra Banks and was cast on America's Next Top Model. The rest, as they say, is history.
"I didn't give up. I posted pictures of myself on Instagram and sent them to modeling agents. The response was always the same: no," Winnie said about how hard it was to keep going when doors were slammed in her face.
She explained how she never had that much of a problem with her condition. Rather, it was other people's reactions to her skin that was the issue.
"People sometimes ask when I learned to love myself. But that was not the issue. I didn't have a problem with myself or my skin," Winnie said. "I had a problem with the way people treated me because of my skin. They tried to define me. I had to relearn how to love myself by forgetting the opinions of everyone else and focusing on my opinion of myself."
That sounds about right.
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Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.