1. Stand for Something
2. Get Followers on Instagram
What does it take to become a world class model? A tall, thin frame and a comely face can help, but they guarantee nothing. There are far more willowy women whose modeling careers never took off than there are professional models. Besides, society’s definition of beauty is changing. In 2019, beauty isn’t about an absence of flaws. It’s about having something to say, and a hearty following on Instagram to say it to.
Winnie Harlow is a Canadian fashion model who got the world’s attention when she appeared on America’s Top Model in 2014. Yes, she’s tall and slim with long black hair, but she stands apart from her peers due to vitiligo, a chronic skin condition which causes portions of the epidermis to become abnormally pigmented. Harlow had suffered from the condition since age 4, and was severely bullied in school by other children, to the point where she briefly considered taking her own life. In 2011, she appeared in a YouTube video called Vitiligo: A Skin Condition Not A Game Changer which has garnered nearly a million views. She explains that 0.5% of the population have vitiligo, which accounts for 6 million people around the world. “There’s nothing different about ourselves,” says Winnie. “It’s just skin. Some people have black skin, some people have white skin, and some people have both.” Harlow has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vogue Italia, i-D, Dazed, and Glamour, and has shot campaigns for Swarovski, Sprite and Desigual. She has 5.5 million followers on Instagram.
In 2013, Hari Nef was a promising drama major at Columbia University and a denizen of the downtown arts scene in New York City. Fast forward a few years, and Hari had become a star playing “Tante Gittel” on the award-winning series Transparent, and as the first transgender model signed to IMG’s roster. Nef has appeared in Vogue, Refinery29, V Magazine, WWD and Vanity Fair, and in ads for Gucci. Most importantly, Nef is an eloquent spokesperson for the trans community who uses her platform to raise awareness and educate the public about human rights issues relating to gender. She has 400,000 followers on Instagram.
Karlie Kloss is one of the top models in the world, but being an entrepreneur and a philanthropist are as important to her as her work in front of the camera. She’s the global spokesperson for Estee Lauder cosmetics and the new host and executive producer of Project Runway, and she’s also an avid computer programmer who is determined to share her love of tech with girls across the country. In 2015, she partnered with Adidas, Wix and Ford and founded Kode with Klossy, an annual camp that gives free computer programming instruction to young women ages 13-18. Hundreds of girls have received coding classes and inspiration from Kloss, and let’s face it, the 6’2” blonde-haired, hazel-eyed goddess makes nerddom look goooooood. @karliekloss has 8 million followers on Instagram.
Mari Malek is a DJ and a model who occasionally refers to herself as a “nubian goddess from South Sudan.” Her growing following flock to her Instagram account for life affirming posts like “you were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose and to do it courageously.” She is a social activist, frequent speaker at the United Nations and the founder of Models With Purpose, a group dedicated to making an impact in the fashion industry. Later this year, she will release her memoir about surviving the civil war in South Sudan, under harrowing conditions in which some of her counterparts were raped, trafficked and killed. “Modeling was a blessing,” she told Bazaar.com last year. “A chance for me to put my country on the map and to tell the stories of the women and children that need help.” Malek loves to use her platform to raise awareness but also inspire others to take action. “Fashion + activism is the new fashion Industry! Get into it” Malek wrote under a post for @voltaatelier, a company that produces upcycled leather handbags and totes stitched by women refugees. Malek has 13 thousand followers on Instagram.
Ashley Graham stepped onto the world stage in 2016 when she became the first size-16 model to grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Graham had been a professional model for more than 10 years by that point, appearing in campaigns for Lane Bryant, Addition Elle, Nordstrom, Target and Bloomingdale’s. In 2017, her memoir “A New Model: What Confidence, Beauty, and Power Really Look Like” became a New York Times bestseller. Graham is an outspoken advocate for body positivity, and she is an avid fitness and nutrition enthusiast who refuses to be ashamed of her curves, and admonishes others to show off their bodies as well, cellulite and all. She may have some detractors here and there, but Graham focuses on the fans, not the haters. She has 8.1 million followers on Instagram, and a blockbuster diffusion line from Swimsuits for All.