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She was teased because of her skin. Now her skin's made her a star.

The things that make us different also make us beautiful.

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Winnie Harlow grew up with endless teasing and name calling. The insult of choice? "Zebra."

As a toddler, Winnie Harlow looked like every other happy kid. But at around 4 years old, Winnie's skin slowly started to change.

#tb.. Ya lol 👧before she was👸 #vitiligo #chantellewinnie #attitude #spicegirlsshirt lol. I wish I could ensure that little girl that things would get better, and everything would work out..💭❤
A photo posted by ♔Chantelle Winnie♔ (@winnieharlow) on



Gradually, patches of color on Winnie's arms, legs, and face began to fade from brown to pale pink. Winnie soon learned her changing skin was a result of vitiligo. Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes skin to lose its pigment. And, as Winnie's skin changed, the teasing started, almost right on cue. Taunts of "cow" and "zebra" followed Winnie through the halls, but she was determined to keep her head up.

"It was really hard growing up. I had to grow thick. People make fun of you and you have to learn how to deal or you break down. I'm not trying to break down so, I have to deal."
— Winnie Harlow

Vitiligo tends to come with invasive questions and stares, but Winnie's comfortable in her skin.

Whether they're asking if it's painful or contagious, Winnie has no problem fielding questions with a dose of honesty and humor.

"It's just a skin condition. It doesn't hurt. There's nothing wrong with me. I'm well. You can breathe the same air as me. We're cool." — Winnie Harlow

What's even more impressive is that technically Winnie could "fix" her skin if she really wanted to. There are treatments that would completely lighten her skin so she'd be all one color, or she could use special makeup to cover her spots. But she's not interested.



Original image from ThoseGirlsAreWild.

Even if you aren't religious, it's pretty inspiring to hear someone fully accept who they are. In 2011, Winnie sat down for " Vitiligo: A Skin Condition Not A Life Changer," where she shared her dreams of someday having her own talk show or working for a magazine. Now, just a few short years later, it's safe to say she's pretty much blown those dreams right out of the water. Can you say supermodel?

These days Winnie can be found strutting down runways and gracing major fashion campaigns where her skin has her standing out.

As the brand ambassador for Desigual, Winnie's face can be seen pretty much everywhere.

A photo posted by ♔Chantelle Winnie♔ (@winnieharlow) on


Here's one of my favorite photos of Winnie. To think that kids made fun of this?! Forget, "cow." This woman is a work of art. Look at how perfectly symmetrical each spot is! She's flawless.

A photo posted by ♔Chantelle Winnie♔ (@winnieharlow) on

But Winnie isn't just a model. For millions of children and adults with vitiligo, she's also a hero.

Winnie's Instagram is filled with magazine spreads, behind-the-scenes photos, and tons of fan art. But those posts are nothing compared to the messages and photos from fans who've found the strength to love themselves because of Winnie.

Came out just to meet me❤️💋 you guys give me life🙏
A photo posted by ♔Chantelle Winnie♔ (@winnieharlow) on


According to the American Vitiligo Foundation, about 1-2% of the global population has vitiligo. And while that doesn't sound like much, that's still millions of people. Millions of people who aren't used to seeing themselves represented in the media, much less represented as something beautiful. This adorable message from the mother of one Winnie's young fans proves how important her supermodel status is for young kids growing up with vitiligo:

A photo posted by ♔Chantelle Winnie♔ (@winnieharlow) on


My heart is officially melting.

Winnie's not the only model whose skin is breaking down barriers. Shaun Ross and Diandra Forrest also prove beauty comes in many shades.

If you don't know Diandra Forrest and Shaun Ross by name (or from hanging out with Beyoncé), you might know them as fashion's first albino supermodels.

One of many, and one of my fav shots with @shaundross
A photo posted by Diandra Forrest (@diandraforrest) on

But Shaun and Diandra aren't just albino, they're African-American albinos. So, of course, that adds a whole 'nother level of, "Wait, you're black but you're not black!? Whaaaa?" ridiculousness.


Original images of Diandra Forrest from Albinism Awareness Campaign.

And just like Winnie, Diandra and Shaun have both dealt with bullying. Diandra even shared in her interview for the Albinism Awareness Campaign that it wasn't just kids. Adults would stare and make comments about her too. For Shaun, it wasn't just being called names, like "powder" and "white bread"; one bullying incident ended in violence, with a classmate stabbing him six times! Today Shaun and Diandra serve as inspirations for anyone who's ever felt ashamed of their differences.



Original image from Shaun Ross' appearance on " The Tyra Banks Show."


"I think it's important for all children with albinism to know they are beautiful. They're not any different than anyone else. ... I always wanted to start something like this just because, growing up, I know that I would love to have had someone who's older around that had albinism ... just to motivate me and that would understand some of the things that I was going through and help me through them." — Diandra Forrest

Models like Winnie, Shaun, and Diandra are showing the world that the things that make us different also make us beautiful and that's something all of us could stand to remember.

You don't need vitiligo or albinism to appreciate what these incredible models have been able to achieve. Sadly, too many of us have dealt with bullying or being made to feel less than because we're different. But the real beauty is in recognizing that we are all unique and that our differences are worth embracing and celebrating.

Thank goodness there are role models like Winnie, Shaun, and Diandra out there to remind us how important it is to work whatever it is you've got.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

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“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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