Why Winnie Harlow Isn't Trendy

Photo: Bravo Press SA/REX USA.
You probably recognize Winnie Harlow from her epic turn on the runway during Fashion Week. Harlow was diagnosed with the skin condition vitiligo when she was just 4 years old. But, instead of letting her unconventional pigmentation get her down, she owned its beauty, which eventually earned her a successful modeling career. The industry has broadly applauded the diversity Winnie brings to the fashion world. But, with major success can come major insensitivity. Case in point: Not one but two publications are claiming Winnie Harlow's vitiligo (or "Michael Jackson's disease," as folks are clumsily calling it), is the hottest new fashion accessory. 

We feel we shouldn't have to explain this, but vitiligo is not something to be labeled as trendy. Vitiligo is a disease that affects 1 to 2 million people in the United States alone. It is, as Winnie herself has recounted, the source of serious emotional anguish for plenty of the people whom it affects — Winnie used to be be called "cow" and "zebra" in middle and high school. 

So, taking Winnie's success and labeling her distinctive look as "trendy" is not only ridiculous, it's actually extremely damaging. It completely diminishes the progress her career signals in the industry. The fashion industry is notorious for sending the same type of girl down the runway. And, Winnie is a standout for this reason.

The use of the term "trend" in this context is problematic for several reasons. For one, it's a word that the industry uses to describe a beauty look or fashion style that's "new and exciting."  Winnie is a person, not a piece of clothing, and vitiligo is not a new condition, by any means. For another thing, trends are cyclical by nature and constantly changing. Calling Winnie trendy is basically saying we'll be on to the "next big thing" soon enough, and she'll fade into obscurity. 

This is another example of just how far we have yet to go when it comes to accepting diversity — not just in the fashion industry, but in everyday life. We can certainly celebrate Winnie's success as a model and the beauty she brings to the table, but let's not reduce it to just a passing phase in the fashion cycle. 


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