There’s a well known saying that goes; “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” but with each passing day modern society pushes against old classic notions. What could be more beautiful than an ever-expanding definition of what beauty really is? Actually, screw the idea of a definition—these amazing (and amazingly gorgeous) women are proving that we don’t need one at all and as Shonda Rhimes said, it’s not about diversifying it’s about normalizing (to paraphrase her of course). Check out these stunning women below who push the boundaries of beauty and give it a whole new meaning.
Winnie Harlow, aka Chantelle Brown-Young, is a 19-year-old model with vitiligo, which is a chronic skin disease that causes loss of skin color in blotches. After being bullied and teased for most of her life, she posted a YouTube video in 2011 where she spoke candidly about the disease—leading to a stint on America’s Next Top Model. Now, she just landed a new spring campaign with Diesel and is walking on runways around the world.
“The only person that can make you feel that you aren’t beautiful is you,” she told Today. “You can’t let someone else lower your self-esteem because that’s what it is—self-esteem, you need to first love yourself before you have anybody else love you.
An Ontario native, Willoughby is one of the only First Nation (AKA Native Canadian) models out there. The Canadian indigenous model and Whitesand First Nation member, who recently walked in her first NYFW, has found that being unable to easily identify has left some questions about her place in the industry. “The biggest thing that I found so far is the fact that there are so few First Nation models that the majority of the time, for clients, I’m not sure if they know how to handle where I’m coming from as a person. I don’t fall under the category of being booked as a black model or any other ethnic models, so it’s sort of—I’m in a category all my own and that can be tough at times,” the model told Indian Country Today Media Network.
The Latina was the first plus-size model to walk the runways of NYFW in 2014. She has also appeared in campaigns for Target, Forever 21, Macy’s, and Nordstrom, and is now a spokesperson (along with model Marina Bulatkina) for “CURVES,” a campaign by photographer Victoria Janashvili to start a conversation (by releasing an art photography book) about acceptance and body positivity. “It’s all about being comfortable in your own skin,” she told Variety Latino. “There is no wrong way to be a woman.”
The transgender model was discovered by Givenchy senior designer Riccardo Tisci and became the face of Givenchy in late 2010. After that, she appeared in many magazine editorials and strutted her stuff on runways. In 2014, she also became the face of Redken, making her the first openly transgender model to front a global cosmetics brand. “I love working with Redken because they appreciate all kinds of beauty,” she said. “They believe in the individuality of the person, and I think that’s really important.”
The androgynous lesbian model is not apologetic when it comes to her look, which allows her to model both menswear and womenswear, and believes her career is a type of activism. “I think it’s a different kind of activism. Like, women shouldn’t have to step into men’s roles to be empowered. They should be able to step into themselves,” she said. “So that’s what I try to bring, that we shouldn’t be thinking of it as menswear or womenswear it should be clothing for people. And that is geared towards anatomical values but isn’t exclusive.”
Dalbesio has been working as a model for years, but she became a media sensation when she appeared in a Calvin Klein ad in November 2014 as the only size 10 model in a campaign full of size 0s—without the brand touting her as a “plus size model” or featuring her in a separate ad. Dalbesio felt like she represented the “in between girls” who were neither plus size nor a typical stick skinny model, tellingELLE.com, “I’m in the middle. I’m not skinny enough to be with the skinny girls and I’m not large enough to be with the large girls and I haven’t been able to find my place. This [campaign] was such a great feeling.”
Mercado has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, but that doesn’t define the striking beauty, who can be seen in campaigns for Diesel and Nordstrom. “There was a time where I compared myself to people around me…Too soon I realized that I was living a lie,” Mercado told i-D this year. “We must stop looking for guidance on how to be beautiful because we can be our own compasses.”
Born Andrej Pejić, the Australian model was, up until 2014, billed as an “androgynous” male model, who described himself as living “in between genders.” Now, Pejić is a transgender woman—going by the name Andreja.
The model broke new ground by appearing on multiple runways for the same designer, such as Jean-Paul Gaultier, where she walked in both the men’s and women’s shows.
The female model—a former beauty pageant contestant who once used to only model women’s clothing—now models exclusively as male in order to have a longer career. “Men don’t need to look as young as possible, so I have a lot of time,” she told the New York Post. But unlike Andreja or Lea, for her, it’s not about expressing a gender that’s inherently hers. “As far as my body, I never felt like I was born in the wrong body, that’s just not something that I’ve dealt with,” she told ELLE.
There’s no stopping this model, who—at the age of 83—appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Thailand. Considered the “oldest working model”, she first appeared on the cover of Vogue at the age of 15, and has been working ever since, with a short stint of retirement after her second marriage in 1958. Now, you can see her in campaigns for Target and Rolex, and in the pages of Vogue, W, and Harper’s Bazaar.