Unique models seem to be helping change societal beauty standards, just as all models have influenced everything from what body type is idealized at the moment to how thin or thick your eyebrows should be. Clearly then, beauty is a fluid concept that truly is in the eye of the beholder, as the old adage goes. And fortunately for everyone, we’re living in an era wherein beauty is more inclusive than it’s been in the past, according to The New York Times. That means there’s room for more people than ever at the table and plenty of things to celebrate.
To that end, the modeling industry, which has in the past been a rigid gatekeeper of beauty standards, is also opening up to more looks than ever before. That means we’re seeing more diverse faces, different kinds of bodies, and a variety of races and ethnicities on the catwalk. To say it’s refreshing is an understatement!
Indeed there are truly some stunning models out there who are bringing a totally unique look to magazine covers and runways everywhere. Read on to see just how special these groundbreaking models are!
Model and musician Darius Vernon is a seriously sexy guy. With Vernon’s chiseled abs, lilting British accent, and collection of bold tattoos, it’s hard to imagine that he once thought any differently about himself. But Vernon has a skin condition called vitiligo, which causes his skin to lose pigment, resulting in patches of lighter skin on his lips, hands, and elsewhere — something that got him severely bullied by people. “One day I was walking down the street and three girls started heckling me and saying how ugly I was,” he recalled in an interview with Barcroft TV. He continued, “I remember going home and soaking the pillow with tears.” Some people are just so ignorant and cruel.
At his lowest point, Vernon considered taking his own life. But meeting a stranger who also had vitiligo at a party helped Vernon open his eyes, and his perspective began to change. And over time, he was able to see himself in a whole new light. “I used to hate my skin but now I’m proud of it,” he said, “it’s part of who I am.” Now he’s a part-time model, and we definitely hope to see more of him.
It’s not hard to see why Brazilian beauty Lea T (Leandra Medeiros Cerezo) chose modeling as a profession, with her caramel colored skin, long dark hair, and enviable cheekbones. She made her big breakthrough in 2010, when she was cast in a campaign for Givenchy by designer Riccardo Tisci. After that came appearances in magazines like Love and Vogue Paris, and she then became the face of the hair care company Redken. That’s a pretty impressive resume, y’all!
But the reason T is so unique is that she’s an openly transgender woman, and she’s one of the first to represent a major brand — something she was surprised by because of her gender identity. “I know working with me is not the easiest thing,” she confessed in an interview with The Cut. “You have a lot of controversy, some people like it and other people hate it and it’s political.” Fortunately, T isn’t afraid to put herself out there and live her truth, as well as her best life in doing so.
T says she’s absolutely grateful for all of the opportunities she’s been given, and she hopes everyone can celebrate their differences while all growing together. Same, girl, same!
Sabrina Karlsson’s look is unmistakable. She has a gorgeous mane of red ringlets that spills over her shoulders, a smattering of freckles across her face, and a honey-colored complexion that anyone would be envious of. She’s also long since left the world of “straight” sized modeling behind her, and she embraces her size 12 or 14 curves, which is definitely a good look for her. And given that she walks in shows for Michael Kors and appears in ads for Gap (with her adorable little baby), our girl is obviously in high demand.
Transitioning to “plus size” modeling wasn’t easy at first, as Karlsson was afraid she wouldn’t be pretty enough to get work — something that turned out to be false. “Eventually, by working with curvy girls, I realized that that is exactly where I wanted to be,” she shared in an interview with Elle. “So it took some time for me to accept it, to be kind to myself.” Been there, girl.
Karlsson hopes that people realize that being “plus sized” isn’t a trend. “This is a change that should have happened way back, and it’s here to stay,” she continued. Damn straight.
Oculocutaneous albinism, which is a genetic condition that affects the color of a person’s hair, skin, and eyes, is only found in 1 in 20,000 people, according to the National Institutes of Health. One of those people is the devastatingly handsome Shaun Ross, an African-American man who has the condition — hence his totally unique look. Additionally, he’s the first man with albinism to be a male international fashion model, and we are 100 percent here for it.
Ross didn’t have it easy growing up with his condition in a world that can be hostile. “I think one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever had to face was being comfortable with the way people view me,” he revealed in an interview with Interview magazine. “It’s not easy being a six-foot light bulb, so I had to become comfortable with that aspect of life.”
But when Ross was approached to be a model, it changed how he viewed himself. “After becoming a model and being accepted slowly, very slowly, I saw a shift which in turn inspired me,” he shared in an interview with the United Nations. Now he’s an advocate and activist, both for himself and others.
It’s not often you see unique models on the runway, especially those who use a wheelchair. But IMG model and FIT-educated Jillian Mercado, who has muscular dystrophy and thus relies on a wheelchair to get around, is changing that with her groundbreaking look. She’s been in campaigns for brand juggernauts like Target and Diesel, and she’s worked behind the scenes writing for magazines and working on photo shoots. So you know she knows what she’s doing.
Initially, Mercado didn’t expect to do her thing on the catwalk, especially in the capacity she does now. “I never actually thought I would have a full-blown modeling career,” she penned in an article for Today. “It wasn’t until I saw an online open call Diesel was having that I bit the bullet and gave it a shot. The rest, as they say, is history.” Indeed it is!
Being in the industry wasn’t always easy for Mercado, but she knows it was the right career move for her. “I love that being a model is a way to exercise my creative juices, but also a way to inspire and give hope to girls like me,” she continued. We love it too, boo!
With her soulful brown eyes, full pouting lips, and lithe, enviable frame, Ines Rau is a sight to behold. The French model started her career with a spread in Playboy magazine, followed by posing alongside the hunky Tyson Beckford in OOB magazine. Rau also did a shoot for Barneys with renowned fashion photographer Bruce Weber. Talk about starting out with a bang!
Rau, who was assigned male at birth, started her gender transition when she was 16 years old. And despite the fact that she’s totally gorgeous, she never thought she could live her dreams. “I wanted to be a model, but never thought I could,” she recalled in an interview with Refinery29. “Becoming a good-looking woman was already a blessing to me, then a fashion model. It’s a real Cinderella story I’m starring in… I still can’t believe it.” Believe it, girl, because it’s real!
As for the future of the industry, Rau is confident that it will only become more inclusive. “Every model should represent a part of any kind of woman, because every woman is beautiful to me,” she continued. That’s true beauty right there — both inside and out.
If you don’t know who Winnie Harlow is, chances are you either have been traveling out of Earth’s orbit for the last several years or have eschewed all forms of social media and communication. The Canadian-born model slays wherever it is that she strikes a pose, be it on America’s Next Top Model, on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, or on Beyoncé’s masterpiece visual album, Lemonade. Lest you forget that she has over 6 million followers on Instagram, Harlow is truly one of the most famous and unique beauties out there.
Harlow had a dream realized when she was selected — finally — to walk the runway for Victoria’s Secret. “It’s the pinnacle of my career,” she gushed in an interview with Vogue. “I told anyone [who] asked, ‘I want Victoria’s Secret!'” Well congrats, girl, ’cause you owned that ish.
Harlow, like many of her unique contemporaries, hopes to see differences celebrated instead of weaponized against people. “Why is there a stigma around being different when we’re all different?” she asked. “Representation is so important, and I want to [stand for] all women. Every single woman.” Louder again for the people in the back, Winnie!
Chances are you’re not likely to run into someone who looks like Nastya Zhidkova on an ordinary day. The Russian-born model has super pale skin, along with a white mane, near-translucent eyebrows and eyelashes, and clear lavender-blue eyes. Everything about her is utterly devoid of melanin, rendering her an ice princess of the highest measure. You know our girl has to wear a lot of sunblock, fam.
Zhidkova has something in common with her modeling contemporary, Shaun Ross. “I am an albino,” she wrote in a post on her Instagram page. That means she’s naturally sans pigment due to a genetic condition, which is what gives her such a unique look.
But having the looks of a northern princess comes with a bit of a hardship. “I have poor eyesight, it is not measured in diopters,” she continued. “I cannot describe my vision. It is like 8 percent of the 100 as I know.” So while she may look like she was chiseled out of ivory, she has to protect her fragile eyes — chances are she has a stylish collection of sunglasses for that!
Some people are so unique and groundbreaking that even President Barack Obama wants to meet them. That’s a bragging right that the gender-bending model Rain Dove can claim, who got to do just that at Capitol Pride in 2016. Lucky!
Dove is known for modeling in both male and female shows due to her androgynous appearance, which apparently seems to bother some people. “Sometimes when castings look at me, I feel like they see some kind of token for their show. But you know what? I’ll take it,” she explained in an interview with Teen Vogue. “It’s my goal to make sure that it’s wildly successful that they have me in their show.” And that, in turn, opens the door for other models down the road, which Dove appreciates.
Additionally, while the modeling industry can be really tough on some people’s confidence, Dove has flourished in it. “Modeling is also the first job I’ve ever had where it’s my job to love myself,” she continued. “While many people think that modeling would chip away at your self-esteem, it’s actually bolstered mine tenfold. It’s been a very interesting journey.” That’s some pretty incredible stuff right there.
Diandra Forrest was only 18 years old when she was signed to be a model, making her the first woman with albinism to ink a deal with a major modeling company, according to the United Nations — quite the accomplishment! But because she was so young, Forrest found herself susceptible to some unsolicited advice from people. “I was going to other countries and going into agencies, and then there would be those reactions,” she recalled in an interview with Glamour. “My eyelashes are really blond, and so are my eyebrows, and like many girls — I’d go in without much makeup — to which agents would say, ‘You should always wear mascara.'” Um, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?
Fortunately, Forrest has gotten a lot more confident since then, and a lot more comfortable with her natural look. “My albinism is a part of me — and it’s beautiful,” she continued. But she also explained that it’s not the only thing that defines her, as she’s a multi-faceted person.
More recently, Forrest has also started embracing her natural hair. “It’s only just recently that I’ve started wearing it more natural and in my ‘fro. I love it,” she added. Yas, queen!
It’s been over two decades since Alek Wek started working as a fashion model, with her gorgeous dark complexion and trademark gap-toothed smile. Born in South Sudan, Wek has been on everyone who’s anyone’s runway, including Gucci, Yves St Laurent, Chanel, Marc Jacobs, and Givenchy. The veteran model is still slaying looks wherever she goes, proving that her career is showing no signs of slowing down.
Even though Wek has been doing her thing on the catwalk for a long time, it was only in 2018 when she was in her 40s that she got her first solo magazine cover (Vogue in Ukraine) — something she attributes to evolving beauty standards. “To see diversity finally kicking in and being embraced is amazing,” she gushed in an interview with The Guardian. But she also added that there’s still a long way to go.
Over the years, Wek has truly blossomed, and she’s acquired wisdom that’s helped her become both super confident and self-embracing. “The things I used to worry about are now the things I love about myself and make me who I am,” she continued. Look to see more of her in the future, for sure!
Everyone ages, but not everyone appreciates how they change physically as they get older. But model Daphne Selfe is out there proving that being older doesn’t mean you’re any less beautiful. Selfe returned to the industry when she was signed with OPSM for a modeling campaign in 2015, and she has also worked with Dolce & Gabbana and British Vogue.
Selfe is known for refusing to get cosmetic surgery, which is impressive in such a competitive business. “It is something that just has never occurred to me,” she revealed in an interview with Vogue. Selfe, who was in her 80s at the time of the interview, added, “I’m going to age like everyone naturally does so I might as well get on with it rather than try to prevent the inevitable. I’m too busy enjoying life and having my next adventure.” Talk about #goals, y’all.
In the future, Selfe hopes to see a larger range of both models and clothing in the biz. “The industry is mainly targeted at the youth market, whereas the older generations are becoming a larger percentage of the population all the time,” she continued. We hope to see those changes too.
IMG model Marquita Pring is a smoldering beauty in the “plus size” fashion industry. Her caramel complexion, deep brown eyes, attractive curves, and disarming smile have definitely served her well as she’s walked on runways for Christian Siriano, Prabal Gurung, and Tommy Hilfiger, to name a few.
Pring has seen the power of social media play out, as it’s widened the diversity of what people see. “Where for so many years we’ve only been able to see images that the media or retailers are showing us, now we’ve entered a new era of speaking up for ourselves instead of just taking whatever is given to us,” she shared in an interview with Elle. “Women are embracing their bodies more, loving themselves more, and in turn putting it out there more.” It’s about time, too.
Additionally, Pring is happy that both the media and people are talking about the “plus size” industry more. “For the longest time people were resisting the idea of curvy models but there’s no denying we have come so far,” she continued. And she feels it’s only going to get “better and better.” We hope so! We need more unique models in the business!
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