This article was originally published on Kueez
They say that beauty's in the eye of the beholder, and that's probably never been truer than it is today. Finally, we've come to a point as a society where loving yourself is not only acceptable - it's encouraged. And yes, that means loving yourself even if your brand of beautiful isn't the kind usually found in fashion magazines. Join us as we celebrate the most unique and unusual-looking people in the world, who prove there's nothing more attractive than self-confidence.
Harnaam Kaur Is a Bearded Woman on the Runway, Not the Circus
Harnaam Kaur stands out in a crowd. The English-Indian model and motivational speaker can't help it - she's got a bushy beard! When she was 12, Kaur was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a disorder causing women to produce large amounts of male hormones. This often leads to excessive hair growth, which saw Kaur grow a glorious beard. The unsurprising-but-heartbreaking abuse she suffered as a child led her to try taking her own life.
Eventually, she stopped feeling ashamed - and started feeling proud. The first bearded model to walk London's Fashion Week, she said she finally realized she didn't have any other body, so "I may as well love it unconditionally."
Sara Geurts's Baggy Skin Was Her Biggest Insecurity - Now It's a Badge of Honor
Despite only being 30, Sara Geurts appears much older - a result of a rare skin condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which occurs in roughly one in 5,000 people and inhibits her body's ability to produce collagen. Consequently, Geurts's skin appears baggy and wrinkled, like that of a woman decades older than her. In the past, her skin was her "biggest insecurity." As she grew older, though, she realized it was beautiful.
Now, her mission is to challenge society's beauty standards. "Each imperfection you have is individual to you," she declared, "and it tells a story about who you are, and the struggle and journey you've been on."
Jillian Mercado Said No One Could Stop Her Becoming a Model Despite Muscular Dystrophy
For as long as she could remember, there have been two constants in Jillian Mercado's life - her love of fashion, and her wheelchair. Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a child, and using a wheelchair since she was 12, Mercado buried herself in fashion mags. When she couldn't find a single model who looked like her, the solution was simple - just become that model! Well, okay, it wasn't quite that easy.
Kidding aside, Mercado became a professional model, starring in campaigns for Target, Nordstrom, and Beyonce's Formation fashion line. "Nobody in this world can stop me from doing what I like," she stated, "just because I travel in a chair."
Tess Holliday Is the Largest Model to Ever Sign with a Mainstream Agency
If you told Tess Holliday when she was a child that she'd appear on the cover of People magazine before she was 30, she'd probably have laughed in your face. Holliday, who grew up in a trailer, was mocked for being overweight and having pale skin. Then, while working as a receptionist in a dentist's office, she decided it was finally time to pursue her dreams of becoming a model.
Guess what? She did. At size 22, she was the largest model to sign with a prominent modeling agency. Now a bona fide professional model, she uses her fame to advocate for body positivity - and women feeling beautiful regardless of size.
Caitin Stickels Uses Her Cat Eye Syndrome to Model - and Create Art
Caitin Stickels is the first model with Schmid-Fraccaro syndrome, more commonly known as cat eye syndrome, to be featured in a major fashion spread, for V Magazine. Looking at her photos, it's incredibly easy to see why. Stickels's chromosomal condition manifested in holes in her eyes' irises, an unusually-shaped mouth, and only one functioning kidney - but she carries herself with beauty, grace, and confidence. It's actually always been that way.
Since she was a child, she recalled seeing children being bullied for things as minor as having freckles. That nurtured in her the realization, she said, that, "All differences are beautiful, and all differences are the same."
Sophia Hadjipanteli's a Model and the Proud Leader of the Unibrow Movement
Sophia Hadjipanteli doesn't just have a mouthful of a name - she has the best unibrow in the fashion industry. Born to Greek-Cypriot parents, Hadjipanteli is now a model, but had a lonely childhood - a result of incessant bullying due to her bushy, jet black unibrow. Otherwise conventionally beautiful, she was often told that if she just plucked that thing, she'd be perfect. To her, it was ridiculous that the hair on her brow was the difference between perfection and imperfection.
Today, her mission is to "normalize what society pressures us to hide or fix," which she and her 473,000 Instagram followers have been doing through her #UnibrowMovement.
Shalom Nchom - the Makeup Guru Who Doesn't Need Makeup to Cover Her Burns
When Shalom Nchom was nine, her entire life's trajectory changed. The Nigeria native was playing in her mother's restaurant when cooking oil spilled on her. She was left with severe burns to her face, head, shoulders, and chest. Shalom moved to the U.S. for reconstructive surgery, and it was there she discovered makeup. Makeup first helped to hide her extensive scars, but it eventually it led her to loving herself.
Today, she shares makeup tutorials with her 1.57 million YouTube followers. "You should love yourself either way - makeup or no makeup," she stresses, adding makeup wasn't the reason she was happy. "I'm happy because I love myself," she explained.
Shaun Ross's Albinism Turned the World of Fashion on Its Head
You may recognize Shaun Ross. After all, he's been featured in music videos for Beyonce's Pretty Hurts and Katy Perry's E.T., among others. Or you might just know him from his prolific modeling career, having done campaigns and spreads for designer houses like Givenchy and magazines like Vogue and GQ. Above all, though, he's a warrior - for acceptance and inclusivity in both the fashion world and the world at large.
Growing up, Ross, who's an albino - a condition affecting one in 17,000 people globally, was called "Wite-Out." When he got into fashion, he recalled all the models looking the same. Now, thanks to his fight, the industry "sees beauty in many ways."
Ashley Graham Was the First Plus-Size Model to Appear on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition's Cover
What's better than making history? Making history twice, of course. In 2016, Ashley Graham became the first plus-size model, at size 16, to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue. The following year, she made the cover of Vogue, once again the first plus-size model to do so. Her true calling, however, has been promoting body positivity. Everyone needs to work together, Graham stated, to "redefine the global image of beauty."
It all started, she added, by becoming your own role model. She's been using her body to incite conversation about taboo subjects, like cellulite, and she couldn't be more beautiful doing it.
Aweng Ade-Chuol's Facial Scars Didn't Stop Her Becoming a Supermodel
Aweng Ade-Chuol becoming a supermodel really is the unlikeliest of stories. She was born in a Kenyan refugee camp, after her parents fled the civil war in their native South Sudan. She has noticeable facial scars, inflicted by chasing chickens as a child. Then, there are her eyes, the whites of which change from gray to brown depending on the climate - a product of a rare genetic condition, Schmid–Fraccaro syndrome.
Aweng's popularity exploded when Rihanna selected her to model for her Fenty line, leaving her scars unairbrushed. Far from self-conscious, Aweng said her scars made her beautiful. "I know I'm different," she stated, "but to me that's beauty."
Winnie Harlow Went from Being Called a 'Zebra' to Becoming a Supermodel
At age four, Canadian supermodel Winnie Harlow was diagnosed with vitiligo, a skin condition that causes skin depigmentation. This relatively rare condition, affecting just 1% of the world's population, led to Harlow being ruthlessly mocked in school. She was called names like cow and zebra, forcing her to drop out of high school and considering taking her own life. Thankfully, she didn't, and was recruited by Tyra Banks herself for cycle 21 of America's Next Top Model.
She didn't win, but it launched a modeling career with spreads in every imaginable fashion mag and participation in Victoria's Secret's fashion show - on top of being a vitiligo awareness advocate.
Amy Purdy Lost Both Her Legs - but Almost Won Dancing with the Stars
When she was 19, Amy Purdy came down with what she thought was the flu. After just one day, she went into septic shock and later suffered multiple organ failure. She'd contracted Neisseria meningitis, and needed to have both kidneys and her spleen removed, on top of amputating both her legs at the knee. Doctors gave her a 2% chance of survival, but to quote Han Solo, "Never tell me the odds!"
Indeed, Purdy's been defying them for 20 years. She won two medals at the Paralympic Games, she became a motivational speaker, she competed on Dancing With the Stars - and yes, she modeled, proving beautiful can also mean disabled
Aaron Philip Became the First Wheelchair-Using Model in New York Fashion Week
Aaron Rose Philip is in a wheelchair - a result of cerebral palsy, which occurs in around two out of every 1,000 births. She also came out as a transgender woman. What does someone like her do for a living, you might be wondering? Oh, how about headline a major luxury fashion brand's fashion show? That's right, Philip is breaking all kinds of barriers as a disabled, transgender person of color in modeling.
She's done campaigns for Sephora and Nike, among others, and was chosen to be the face of two Moschino campaigns, going on to be the first wheelchair-using model in New York Fashion Week.
Yulianna Yussef Has Moles Covering 60%-70% of Her Body - and She's Proud of It
Yulianna Yussef may not be a model, but she certainly turns heads. Yussef was born with congenital melanocytic nevus, a condition affecting roughly 1% of the world's population. It causes clusters of melanin-carrying skin cells to group together, creating dark patches of skin resembling moles. Yulianna has several such spots on her legs, but the most noticeable is the one covering most of her back and torso. She was bullied, ridiculed, and ostracized - until realizing enough was enough.
I was so tired of hiding and being afraid of people, she stated. Yussef now preaches body positivity to her 120,000 Instagram followers, and has even started the #BareYourBirthmark campaign.
Lauren Elyse Uses Makeup to Highlight, Not Hide, Her Vitiligo
When she was a child, makeup guru Lauren Elyse was diagnosed with vitiligo - the rare skin condition that causes loss of skin pigmentation. At first, only her knees were affected, but as she grew older she lost the pigmentation around both of her eyes. Contrary to what some people might expect, though, Elyse didn't become a makeup artist to hide her vitiligo - instead, she uses her skills to highlight it!
Sharing her journey with her 262,000 Instagram followers, Elyse admitted she had a hard time growing up, with no strong female figures with vitiligo to look up to. Now, SHE'S that role model for others, which she absolutely loves.
Melanie Gaydos Has No Hair, No Teeth - and a Punk Rock Attitude
In no era other than the current one could Melanie Gaydos be a model - and we're all that much luckier for it. Gaydos has ectodermal dysplasia, an umbrella term for multiple genetic disorders causing missing or abnormal hair, teeth, nails, fingers, and skin color. Collectively, seven out of every 10,000 births are affected by this condition. In Melanie's case, it caused blindness and alopecia - severe hair loss all over her body.
Alright, some might think, "she probably models for tiny alternative brands." Wrong! Gaydos has walked in multiple New York Fashion Week shows. She refuses to wear wigs or dentures, and excels at being one thing - herself.
Diandra Forrest, Called 'Casper' as a Child, Became a Professional Model
Diandra Forrest's first brush with the modeling industry came at age 14, when a runway coach said she'd never make it in fashion. It certainly wasn't the first time she encountered negativity - Forrest is an African-American woman with albinism, a condition that diminishes the amount of the melanin pigment in a person's hair, skin, and eyes. About one in 18,000 people in the U.S. have it - and Forrest is one.
Called "Casper" and "Snow White" growing up, she didn't let that stop her in becoming the first female albino model to be signed to a major agency. She now says that albinism's part of her, and it's beautiful, but it's not all of her.
Dru Presta Is Probably the Only Three-Foot-Four Model in the World
When we mention models, what kind of body type comes up in your head? Probably a tall, leggy woman, right? While many models do fit into that mold, one of them couldn't be farther from it - and couldn't be happier! Meet Dru Presta, who was born with achondroplasia, a condition afflicting one in 27,500 people. One look at her's enough to notice the main symptom - she's three feet, four inches tall.
She didn't receive much support from her environment growing up, but it only made her stronger. Dru fulfilled her dream of becoming a model. Her biggest wish, she said, was for the fashion world to open its doors to anyone, no matter their appearance.
Maeva Marshall's Stroke Led to Second-Degree Burns - and It Made Her a Model
At first glance, Maeva Marshall is a beautiful, freckled sight to behold. Knowing her story will change your perspective, guaranteed. When she was just 20, the French-American model suffered a stroke that left her in a wheelchair for eight months. Not only that, but the medication she was taking sparked an allergic reaction in sunlight. Those spots on her face, you see, aren't freckles at all - they're flash second-degree burns.
Though she initially hated her new appearance, Marshall came to see her spots as a symbol of her fierceness and resilience - evidence of all the battles she's won. Now, she hopes others will hear her incredible story, and gain some confidence themselves.
Mikayla Holmgren Was the First Miss USA Contestant with Down Syndrome
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder in which a child is born with an extra copy of their 21st chromosome. Occurring in one every 1,000 births globally, it's actually more common in the U.S., where it occurs once every 700 births. In 1995, one such baby was born in Stillwater, Minnesota - Mikayla Holmgren. Mikayla, however, is anything but common. In 2017, she became the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in a Miss USA pageant, entering her home state's.
Breaking that barrier wasn't enough - now Holmgren's dream is to appear in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. We have a feeling she'll make it.
Chrissy Teigen Sticks It to Body-Shaming Trolls Every Day
Wait, wait, model and media personality Chrissy Teigen? Mrs. John Legend Chrissy Teigen? So yeah, you might be wondering what someone who's made a career based on her appearance is doing here. The answer's quite simple - love it or hate it, for better or worse, Teigen never pulls any punches. She'll be the first to tell the world about everything that's real about her - but also about everything that's fake.
She's been body shamed countless times for not conforming to the "model standard," but refuses to buckle. She joked about plastic surgery, quipping, "Everything about me is fake except my cheeks." John was right - she IS perfectly imperfect!
Billie Eilish May Be Covered Up or Laid Bare - But She's Always Herself
Billie Eilish, the voice of Gen-Z, became a global phenomenon almost overnight after releasing her first song, Ocean Eyes, when she was just 13. Fast-forward a few years and Eilish, still technically a teenager, is a trendsetter. Initially, her talents as an artist were nearly overshadowed by the attention afforded to her style. Eilish would consciously only appear in public wearing loose, baggy clothing - a deliberate decision to prevent unsolicited judgment about her figure.
Then, in 2021, she did a complete stylistic 180, ditching her trademark streetwear for form-fitting, revealing corsets and dresses - which she used to love as a kid, before being body-shamed out of wearing them.
Harry Styles Wears 'Feminine' Clothing and Jewelry So Everyone Can
To think of Harry Styles as merely a teenybopper icon, first with One Direction and then as a solo act, would be grossly selling him short. Don't believe us? His second album, Fine Line, was named one of Rolling Stone's 500 greatest albums of all-time - the most recent album to appear there. But as influential as he's been in music, Styles has arguably been as important to amplifying love in the world.
His motto, Treat People with Kindness, isn't just a slogan - Styles practices it himself, by wearing genderbending fashion and jewelry to challenge masculine beauty standards. Self expression, according to Styles, is what's important - not gender identity.
Danielle Kroon Has Eyes You Can't Look Away from - in Two Different Colors
This image might at first glance appear to be photoshopped, but we assure you it isn't. This striking young woman, Danielle Kroon of The Netherlands, has heterochromia - a rare condition affecting about six in 1,000 people that causes differently colored eyes. As you can see, the condition can manifest itself in people as well as animals. We seriously doubt that pooch, adorable though it is, is as accomplished as Kroon.
Not only is she a model, but she also has a bachelor's degree in medicine and a master's degree in healthcare management. Yeah, she's pretty much every mother's dream daughter-in-law.
Nyma Tang Has Made Sure Even Dark-Skinned Makeup Lovers Are Seen
Every time she uploads a video, Nyma Tang's 1.35 million YouTube subscribers are made to feel just a little bit more comfortable in their own skin. Born in Ethiopia to parents from South Sudan, Tang's deep, dark skin color made her a target for constant bullying at school. Bent but not broken, she made it her life's mission to help people with darker skin feel beautiful as well as accepted.
Through projects like her Darkest Shade series, Tang shows dark-skinned makeup lovers how well - or awfully - mainstream makeup brands cater to them. Eventually, she went on to produce her own lip products, for MAC Cosmetics and Dose of Colors.
Billy Porter Is Using Fashion as a Tool for Political Self-Expression
There's very little Billy Porter HASN'T done - acting, writing, directing, and singing. His true trailblazing, though, comes in fashion. Porter, a member of the LGBT community, has expressed a desire to be a "walking piece of political art" - and man, has he! Challenging society's traditional ideas about masculinity, Porter has often sported gender-fluid ensembles for award and fashion shows. Recent notable examples include his golden "Sun God" costume at the 2019 Met Gala and his umbrella headband at the 2021 American Music Awards.
In everything he does - and wears - Porter has time and again shown he isn't afraid of anything, least of all taking chances.
Nikia Phoenix Tried Covering Up Her Freckles Before Embracing Them
Today, freckles are the biggest trend in the beauty world, with companies offering temporary - and even permanent - tattoos to help women achieve that desirable spotty look. It wasn't always this way. Just ask model Nikia Phoenix, whose freckles appeared when she was four. She remembers all too well being picked on because of them. For a long time, it hurt her self esteem. She even tried hiding the freckles with makeup.
But they always ended up shining through. Nowadays, she embraces them, as they've helped define her and make her stronger. "I am a black freckled woman," she declared, "and proud."
Lizzo Is a BBW - and She's Not Afraid to Flaunt It
Before becoming a world-famous, Grammy-winning singer, Lizzo was told by a guy she dated that, "Your face is great, but your body needs work." It was at that moment that she decided she'd never again let anyone else dictate how she felt about herself. These days, Lizzo advocates body positivity and self-love - both in her songs and on social media. In fact, most of her photos seek to normalize cellulite, as well as other things considered "body imperfections" in women.
A self-described "BBW" (big booty woman), Lizzo posts revealing, unfiltered photos of herself, lumps, stretch marks and all - because she knows she's beautiful.
Laverne Cox Is the First Transgender Person to Have a Madame Tussauds Wax Figure
If we listed every "first transgender person" accolade Laverne Cox has won, we'd be here all day. First to be nominated for an Emmy, first to appear on the cover of Time, first to have a Madame Tussauds wax figure - all in a day's work, right? It hasn't always been easy, though. Cox was in a string of "toxic" relationships when she was younger, before realizing they were a reflection of what she thought about herself.
Since then, she's "worked her a** off" to think more highly of herself. And now that she does, she works tirelessly to lift up other transgender people as well through her activism.
Zendaya Called Out a Magazine for Airbrushing Her Body
Hard to believe anyone would think to body shame someone as beautiful as Zendaya, but it's happened - multiple times. She's been blasted for everything from being too skinny to how "weird" her feet looked, but it hasn't stopped her stepping up - to prop others up. Her clothing line, Daya, for example, is completely size-inclusive and gender fluid, meaning her clothes can make anyone, regardless of gender or weight, feel seen and beautiful.
That message of self love doesn't discriminate - when Zendaya's proportions were photoshopped to appear more "appealing" in a magazine, she posted a side-by-side comparison to Instagram and blasted these "unrealistic ideals of beauty."
Molly Bair Went From Unibrow and Yoda Shirts to Prada and Chanel
Just one week removed from being scouted at a New York flea market, Molly Bair was already walking down a runway. You think you're surprised? Just imagine what she felt! The six-foot-one, gangly young woman is impossible to miss - but it hasn't always been that way. She spent her childhood, in fact, with "a unibrow, glasses, and a Yoda shirt." Now, she probably won't get to study computer science like she wanted.
She's just too darn busy! Bair's walked for the biggest names in fashion, from Chanel to Prada. Being a model, she said, opened her eyes to beauty - which, she explained, "came from uniqueness." Well, she has no shortage of that.
Ruby Rose Was Told She Looked Too Much Like Justin Bieber, So She Embraced It
Once, Ruby Rose was told by a director she couldn't play a love interest in an action movie because she looked "too much like Justin Bieber." The Australian model and actor, who now identifies as genderfluid or gender neutral, fully leaned into that supposed insult. Covered in more than 100 tattoos and often sporting a James Dean-like haircut, she subverts what we think a beautiful woman, let alone a model, looks like.
She's also battled body shaming, with people blasting her for appearing too thin. It infuriated her, she said, not because she cared what someone thought about her body, but because it "worries or shames fans."
Stef Sanjati's Genetic Condition Controlled Her, Until She Realized She Didn't Need to Look Normal
At just 25 years old, Stef Sanjati is already an icon. The Canadian video blogger started her YouTube channel with the aim of teaching people about the transgender community. Stef, a transgender woman herself, also provided makeup tutorials geared especially towards trans women. While that's neat, it's not that all that special, right? Well, Stef also has Waardenburg syndrome, a genetic condition occurring in one out of every 42,000 people.
As a result, she has a white streak in her hair, her eyes are set farther apart than normal, and she's deaf in one ear. Bullied as a teen, Sanjati eventually realized she "didn't need to look normal," because she already looked "cool as h****!"
Ia Ostergren Has 40-Inch Legs and No Time for Haters
Conventional wisdom states that models are supposed to be leggy, but apparently - at least according to some - you CAN have too much of a good thing in that department. Swedish model Ia Ostergren is five-foot-ten, which isn't enormous by the modeling world's standards. What IS unusual, however, is the length of her legs, which measure three feet and four inches. Ostergren, who's literally mostly legs, predictably suffered abuse growing up.
Through sports, however, she found the confidence to truly let her beauty shine. Her motto is simple: "You have one life. How do you want to spend it? Apologizing for being yourself? Be brave. Believe in yourself. You have one life. Enjoy it."
Alicia Keys Did What Few Women in Showbiz Dared - Stop Wearing Makeup
Alicia Keys isn't just the winner of more Grammy Awards than she probably has room for - she's also a bold advocate for natural feminine beauty. In 2016, the singer-songwriter declared that she would no longer be wearing makeup. It's almost unthinkable for a woman in showbiz to appear without makeup, but Keys said that once she found herself no longer feeling comfortable without it, she knew she had to change.
I don't want to cover up anymore, she stated. "Not my face, not my mind, not my soul." Keys later resumed wearing makeup, but in a much healthier way, saying she was no longer "a slave" to it.