When we think about beauty, we think about perfect skin, perfect bodies, perfect hair, perfect smiles, perfect eyes and a generally blemish-free look. Psychologists and scientists have both found that we choose beauty standards based on the culture and the ingrained societal standards that we live in.
The media has become increasingly invasive in our modern American society and around the world. We see images of perfect models on a regular basis from the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition to the models lining the Victoria Secret runway each year.
These women inspire us because they are not only talented models, but they are models who have revolutionized—in some significant way—the fashion industry, our society and therefore the way that people perceive their own bodies. They have taken traditional beauty standards and updated them, upgraded them and in some cases thrown them completely out the window.
These women are creating new standards that every woman can celebrate so join us in taking a look at these incredible models-turned-role models.
Winnie Harlow (birth name: Chantelle Brown-Young)
This model knows what it feels like to be bullied. As a young girl, classmates who called her “Panda” and told her that she was so ugly so no one would ever want to be friends with her taunted her on a daily basis. As she grew older, the taunt simply changed to tell her that she was so ugly that no one would ever want to date her. All because of her skin condition called vitiligo. The skin condition created patches of white that covered parts of her dark brown skin. Instead of allowing all of the taunting and jeering to make her a victim, Winnie decided to fight back and to accept the way that she looked. She went so far as to decide that it was a positive attribute. This was when she decided to start modeling.
In the 15th season (or twenty-first cycle) of America’s Next Top Model, Winnie made it as a top contestant. At this point, she was still rocking her birth name Chantelle Brown-Young. She ended up in sixth place out of the fourteen model contestants. Not one to let failure keep her down, she changed her professional name to Winnie Harlow and was cast by Desigual, a casual clothing brand. The brand’s unusual style meshed perfectly with Winnie and it was her first big professional break. From here, she has modeled for fashion brands such as Diesel, Dazed, i-D and SHOWStudio. She also has modeled for the magazine Glamour for two of the different non-English language versions of the magazine.
Andrej is famous for her incredible runway walk but also for her role as one of the most famous transgender models in the world. The Australian model was first discovered while working a shift at a local McDonalds in Australia. She was only 17 at the time, but the scout was interested in her highly androgynous look. He felt that the look could easily translate between each gender. The scout was right.
Andrej began modeling for huge designers such as Michalsky, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Rosa Clara and Marc Jacobs. She was able to model bridal dresses and then walk down the runway as a man. For a while, Andrej claimed to live with her gender in a fluid way and little desire to claim one or the other. However, in 2014 she had a sex reassignment surgery and decided to live fully as a woman. She became a beacon of support for the transgender community when she became “the first openly transgender woman to appear in Vogue.”
Tess Holliday is a plus-size model that had always wanted to be a model but was not sure that she could be due to her size. Tess was living her own life, but had scars from her past. She was bullied as a child and teased for not only her large size but also because she had very pale skin. She lived in a trailer in the back of her grandparent’s home and this was also a source of evil jeers from neighborhood kids. Her father also verbally abused her about her weight but her mother supported Tess regardless of her size.
In 2013, she created a movement on Instagram with a single hashtag: #effyourbeautystandarts. This hashtag went viral and the campaign was embraced by thousands and thousands of Instagram users. She was recruited by a modeling company and started modeling with full support from professional clothing brands. She is now considered one of the top plus-sized models and has worked with clothing groups including Vintage Box 1947, Black Cat Bikinis, Jessica Louise Clothing, SWAK, Evil Pawn Jewelry, Empress Lingerie and Domio Dollhouse. In fact, she is the “largest plus-size model of her size and height to be signed to a mainstream modeling agency” in history. Tess makes larger girls and women feel good about themselves and recognize that all sizes can be beautiful.
Daphne Selfe is one of the world’s oldest models and in 2014 was awarded the “Guinness World Record for the world’s oldest super model.” She is a London-based model and considered a supermodel by all in the industry. At 83, Daphne is continuing to defy industry standards and show the world that every age is beautiful. She has not used pricey designer cosmetics; she wears her hair long and natural in grey and has never had Botox let alone a cosmetic surgery. Everything about Daphne is natural.
Daphne also often does not use photoshop in her photos and her natural wrinkles are visible to all. She has modeled for many different photoshoots and brands, but one of her most iconic shoots is when she modeled for a charity event. At the shoot, she wore a handcrafted replica of the famous coned bra and corset that Madonna wore. Daphne is happy with her body and shows women everywhere how to embrace their body as they age though she has admitted that she does not love the brown spots she has on her arms so at home, Daphne opts for long sleeves.
Alex Minsky had no intention of becoming one of the world’s sexiest male models. However, that is exactly what Alex has become. Alex served for the United States marines most of his adult life, but in 2009 he was in an accident. There was a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, where he was serving, and the bomb blew up Alex’s car. He broke his jaw in a few places, tore his arm and his right leg blew off below the knee. He also landed in the hospital with brain trauma that required months to recover. For part of the recovery, Alex was in a coma.
Immediately following the accident, Alex was in denial and sunk into a depression. He didn’t know what to do. Eventually he decided to change his life and to get sober so he had to find something to keep him on the straight and narrow path. Alex decided to go to the gym to workout twice a day. This would keep him accountable and focused on his life path. Once when he was at the gym, a photographer came over to Alex and asked if he could photograph him. Alex was surprised and thought that it was a joke, but once he realized that the photographer was serious he agreed. From those series of photographs came a prosperous modeling career. Alex challenges and revolutionizes the way people see beauty by modeling with his prosthetic limb. Viewers see photographs of Alex from the waist up and then see photographs of him with his prosthetic limb, which helps to demonstrate the all-encompassing beauty of people.
This British model has an interesting and unique name, but that is far from her only unique quality. Moffy is a young model at nineteen, but she has quickly become a favorite because she was born with strabismus. The condition makes her eyes look slightly cross-eyed and is highly visible in photographs. Although Moffy never planned to become a role model and was only ever focused on becoming a professional working model, she has embraced her role.
Moffy often tells people that she has a “funny eye” and doesn’t care about her condition. She said she once thought about surgery that would fix the eye, but now she doesn’t want to because she doesn’t think it would be right. She wants to remain as truthful to herself as possible. Moffy has also credited her condition with making her more appealing as a model because it means that she has something different to offer. Of course, her condition is not why she is successful, but it helps to add another dimension to the photograph. Moffy inspires people to embrace their flaws and accept themselves.
Shaun Ross is an albino man that is also a fashion model. When he was a child he was teased because of the way that he looked. He also has an odd hump on his face by his eye that he was bullied for as well. When Shaun was younger, he started dancing to help with the bullying because he needed an outlet. He trained for five years at a top dance school known as Alvin Ailey. Then he began sharing videos on YouTube where he became a sensation.
In 2008, Shaun took the leap. He decided that he wanted to model professionally. With this decision, Shaun changed the world of modeling forever and with it, traditional beauty standards. Shaun became the “first albino male model in the world.” Today Shaun is signed to modeling agencies in the United States and Britain. He has also appeared in several music videos including Lana Del Rey, Katy Perry and Beyonce.
Aiden Shaw is a model, an actor, an author and a musician. He was not signed as a model until his late 40’s, but Aiden is making up for lost time. He is now much older, but his campaigns show that beauty can come at all ages. When Aiden was younger, he studied at several universities in several disciplines ranging from Expressive Arts to Creative Arts, Photography and Video to Film and Television. He also studied for two years at the Manchester Youth Theater.
Aiden has worked for a number of famous modeling agencies and is currently signed by four agencies in three major cities: New York, Paris and Barcelona. Aiden models for magazines such as GQ Style, Esquire and more. This intelligent and gorgeous male model proves that age is just a number and a person’s spirit is worth so much more.
Jillian Mercado is a model that has inspired thousands with her muscular dystrophy. She does not allow the condition to keep her spirits down or to affect what she does in her life. She said that at one point in her life she decided that she had to quit feeling sorry for herself and feeling so sad about her condition. “I really can’t change [it]” Jillian said.
So Jillian found a way to make a way in an industry that she was passionate about: fashion. Jillian became a fashion blogger, fashion editor and a breakout star for the Diesel’s “We Are Connected” campaign. All of these activities launched her career and soon Jillian was a working model despite her condition. Today, Jillian loves what she does and inspires people with physical conditions that limit their abilities to pursue what they love no matter what. She is a testament to the saying, “When there is a will, there is way.” Jillian found her way and we love it.
We think these gorgeous models deserve their titles as the models that are revolutionizing traditional beauty standards. Winnie, Andrej, Tess, Daphne, Alex, Moffy, Shaun, Aiden and Jillian make our hearts sing. Beautiful inside and out, these nine are challenging fashion to look good in every imaginable way.
What do you think of these beautiful models? Which model do you think has had the greatest impact on revolutionizing traditional beauty standards and creating a fashion industry that is more accepting of all types of people? Are we missing any models that you think deserve to be on this list? How do you feel about modern beauty standards?