Chantelle Brown-Young, who also goes by the professional name Winnie Harlow, is a young model with a rare skin condition called vitiligo. The condition—which is the same disease that Michael Jackson was diagnosed with—causes the pigmentation of the skin to change in patches all over the body.
Although the vitiligo has caused Harlow pain and insecurity—not to mention years of bullying from her peers—in her lifetime, she didn’t let that stop her ambition to model. In fact she was the fifth-place finalist on Cycle 21 of the hit reality TV competition America’s Next Top Model.
Since appearing on the show, Harlow has worked in the fashion industry on major campaigns.
But her unusual appearance has sparked controversy. Inspired by Harlow’s newfound popularity, women on social media have started painting their skin to mimic the distinct pattern of her skin condition.
While some see this as an innocent tribute to the up-and-coming model, many feel that this is a disgusting form of blackface.
Harlow took to her Instagram page with a response that surprised many:
“My response to this is probably not what a lot of people want but here it goes: every time someone wants fuller lips, or a bigger bum, or curly hair, or braids does Not mean our culture is being stolen. Have you ever stop to realize these things used to be ridiculed and now they’re loved and lusted over. No one wants to “steal” our look here. We’ve just stood so confidently in our own nappy hair and du-rags and big asses (or in this case, my skin) that now those who don’t have it love and lust after it. Just because a black girl wears blue contacts and long weave doesn’t mean she wants to be white and just because a white girl wears braids and gets lip injection doesn’t mean she wants to be black. The amount of mixed races in this world is living proof that we don’t want to be each other we’ve just gained a national love for each other. Why can’t we embrace that feeling of love? Why do we have to make it a hate crime? In a time when so much negative is happening, please don’t accuse those who are showing love and appreciation, of being hateful. It is very clear to me when someone is showing love and I appreciate these people recreating, loving and broadcasting something to the world that once upon a time I cried myself to sleep over.”