Modeling isn’t as difficult as Tyra Banks and the producers of America’s Next Top Model may want viewers of the popular reality competition to think. “In a real-life modeling situation, it’s not that hard,” says Chantelle Brown-Young. The aspiring model appears in cycle 21 of the TV series, which is airing now on City. Given her personal struggles, it’s hardly surprising that the 20-year-old puts mastering the smize in life’s “easy” column. The Toronto-based contestant was diagnosed with the skin disease vitiligo when she was four years old. As the disorder progressed and her face and body became adorned with white patches, Brown-Young gained unwanted attention and harassment from her peers and secretly longed for a role model that shared her difference: “I wished there was someone who looked like me.”
Brown-Young talks to FLARE about how she was scouted for the show—via Instagram!—what reality TV life is really like and how it feels to be an inspiration.
How tough is America’s Next Top Model? It’s tough in the sense that you are put into a situation where it’s just a bunch of strangers and you kind of have to get along. The modeling aspect wasn’t super-difficult… There’s some wacky situations, but it’s not super-duper hard. It’s TV and in a real shoot, yeah, you may have to go in a waterfall, but you’re not going to have someone barking at you basically saying ‘No, the water’s not cold. Get in there!’
What did you learn from the experience? I think the most important lesson I learned is that nothing is a handout. You have to work for everything you get.
Did you learn from Tyra? Is she involved with the models or is she more of a host? Both. But we also have mentors and guests that come on the show and teach us different things so it’s not just Tyra with us all the time.
What’s it like being home? Liberating. You’re with the same people all the time and you can’t go anywhere. You can’t go to any stores. You’re in that house or that mansion the entire time unless they tell you to get into the car and take you somewhere. You don’t even get to do your own grocery shopping. You have to make a list and give someone else your money and the network goes and gets your stuff. It’s liberating just to be able to go and get milk from the store.
How did your appearance on the show come about? Tyra Banks saw me on Instagram and decided to have the network look me up and figure out where I was and have me for the show.
What was it like getting that message on Instagram? I didn’t get a message on Instagram. My sister got a message on a fan page she has for me on Facebook. It was from the network basically saying that Tyra Banks was looking for me and she wanted me to be a part of the show. I didn’t know if it was real or not, but after a few Skypes I realized it was the real deal and made some audition videos and headed out to L.A.
You were diagnosed with vitiligo when you were four. How did you deal with it? It was nothing at that age. Four to elementary school—maybe grade 2—I didn’t know that I had vitiligo. It was just a regular thing for me.
Did it ever feel like a bad thing? Or did people make you feel that way? Yeah, there was a time when I changed schools and I befriended two girls at the new school and a few weeks into being a new kid at that school they stopped talking to me. I didn’t know why and when I went and asked them they said that their parents told them they couldn’t talk to me because they might get my skin condition. That was kind of the first realization of me having vitiligo, or being different. And it did progress as kids got older and meaner. As I graduated into different levels of schooling it got worse.
What point in your life was the most difficult? I would say middle school because of the physical altercations [related to her condition]. There were some in high school but I would say it was worse in middle school just because it was new to me. By the time I was in high school and there was bullying and physical altercations and what not… I wasn’t used to it, but I kind of expected it.
You’ve become a spokesperson for people who have vitiligo. Did you intend that? Or did it just happen? I feel like I’m more so an inspiration to people who are different in general.
How do you want to inspire people? I literally just choose to live my life in the sense that I love myself and I show that I love myself in the sense that loving yourself is OK. No matter what that bully at school says, or maybe your mean brother says, or whoever is putting you down. Showing that it’s OK to be yourself and it’s OK to be different. And there’s beauty in it as well.