Full transcript of Canadian fashion model Chantelle Brown-Young aka Winnie Harlow’s TEDx Talk: My Story is Painted On My Body at TEDxTeen Conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: My story is painted on my body by Chantelle Brown-Young at TEDxTeen
I wanted to start off by asking a question to everyone in the room, and you can take a minute to think about this question. I wanted to ask what do you find most beautiful? And not in the world, like butterflies and flowers, but in a person. What do you find the most attractive in a person? Is it eyes? Do you like pretty eyes? Blue eyes? Curly hair? Long nails? Big feet? Some people like big feet.
What is it about people that we find attractive? I think that the way that we think of beauty comes from different things like: social media, the Internet, magazines, especially, if that’s coming from a model. I feel that those are kind of what define beauty today. And personally to me, I feel that beauty is in everything. And some people may say that big feet are not cute, but there’s going to be a pair of shoes that are going to look better on my size 9 feet than a size 6 foot. So, I find that there could be beauty in everything.
For example, I love your dreads! They are amazing. Your gorgeous hair, Talia. Oh, my god! I wish I could get mine to be that big. Sir, with the shiny bold head, I think that this is amazing. That sheen, perfect! So as you can see, I find beauty in everything.
And, of course “I find beauty in everything” that’s super duper cliche. Like beauty in everything. I don’t think everyone thinks that there is beauty in everything, but the reason why I feel that there is beauty in everything is because when I was young, I was picked on for something that today I feel is amazing. One thing about me connects millions of people around the world. And that is something I think you can probably see, it’s my skin condition, it’s called vitiligo.
And vitiligo is basically my immune system that feels that my melanin which is what makes color in your skin, thinks that my melanin is a disease, something similar to the common cold, so it fights it off, and that makes my skin turn white.
I was singled out because of this skin condition. I was bullied. I was alienated. Even by people who didn’t mean to alienate me. For example: we would, like everyone does, take family pictures, and my mom would bring a little top of makeup, and it was her makeup. My mom is not the same skin color as me, she’s much darker than I am. So, could you imagine me having a dark paste of face, and the rest of me as like brown, white? I obviously didn’t feel comfortable, but my mom was trying to make me feel comfortable. I was alienated.
In school, I changed school in about grade 3, grade 2 and it’s already hard to make friends when you change school especially at such a young age, but luckily I found two girls who were willing to play with me. They didn’t really know who I was, but they wanted to play, they wanted to check me out and see if I was one of the cool kids.
And after a few weeks of being in that school and having those friends, all of a sudden, I didn’t have them. And I was kind of confused as to why I was struggling to make friends. I finally did and now, where did they go? They would avoid me at recess, they would avoid me at lunch, and I finally went up to them one day and was like, “Guys, what’s going on? Why aren’t you talking to me anymore?”
They said to me, “We can’t talk to you anymore, sorry. Our parents said that we might catch your skin condition.”
Can you imagine how that made me feel in grade 2, grade 3? That hurt. I was alienated, I was embarrassed, to be honest. I didn’t know what this skin condition was in grade 2 or grade 3. I wasn’t asked if I wanted this skin condition. I didn’t ask for it, yet I was alienated for it.
But here’s the thing, when I got a little bit older, I didn’t want to be in that position anymore, I didn’t want to be bullied. So rather than just taking myself out of the position, what did I do? I became the bully. And I mean it’s not better on one side than the other. I can tell you, because I’ve been on both sides. I didn’t want to be bullied anymore so I kind of took lead with those people who were bullying and I said, “Cool, those are going to be my friends now because hey I don’t want to be bullied, I don’t want to be on this side of the spectrum. So I guess the only side is to be on this side, this must be the good side.”
So I decided to go to that side. I would pick on kids. And I would be like, “So ugly your hair!” “Ugh, who did that?” “Rude, right?”
But I came to a realization that I was trying to put myself into a mold that I didn’t fit. I mean, who’s to say that I’m supposed to fit in a mold anyway? I can make my own. So, I decided that I was going to take myself away from this side and away from this side, and make my own side, and fit myself a new mold. And that mold is so cliché, but I feel that there is beauty in everything.