There’s no stopping Winnie Harlow these days. She’s worked with Beyoncé, been in commercials, campaigns, walked on the runways of major designers for New York Fashion Week, Milan Fashion Week and more, and been outspoken in representing people who live with vitiligo. One might say that her career skyrocketed thanks to her exposure on Season 21 of America’s Next Top Model (Tyra Banks discovered her on Instagram and she was invited to audition back when she was 19). However, Harlow says being on the show didn’t really do anything for her career. In her opinion, it does nothing for any of the models who appear on the reality show.
When asked on Watch What Happens Live when she knew she made it, and when she felt her career truly started to take off, the 23-year-old said it happened after she’d been eliminated.
“So I really started after the show because that really didn’t do anything for my career, which it doesn’t do anything for any model’s career, realistically,” she told Cohen. “But a photographer from London hit me up. Major photographer, Nick Knight, and he was like, ‘Hey, I’ve seen your photos online and I want to do a shoot with you.’ It went viral, I got campaigns from there and it hasn’t stopped since.”
Harlow (who was born Chantelle Brown-Young) said that she went on the show because she thought it would bring her major opportunities, but instead, it just brought drama.
“That’s why I went on. I thought it was going to be a career starter but it was really like a reality TV show,” she said. “That’s not what I signed up for.”
Harlow didn’t get along well with fellow contestants, and this was especially the case when she was able to return to the competition after being eliminated. Not only that, but she clashed with mentor and photographer Yu Tsai. He thought calling her a “panda” due to her condition was like an endearing pet name, and she had to set him straight. Also, she found herself getting side-eyed for allegedly lying about messing around with fellow contestant Keith Carlos, who would go on to win the season. He confronted her about what she was telling people in front of everyone:
Because of her time on the show, Harlow was labeled something of a mean girl. But she recently said that what was shown to the world, specifically about her situation with Carlos, wasn’t necessarily “reality.”
“We were both lying to the cameras, they confronted us, they lied to him and told him I was talking about us, so he got at me on camera,” she wrote on Instagram. “I wouldn’t talk about it cause I was scared of my mama watching so they made me look like a liar which ended up looking worse than just messing around with some dude. Thank you reality TV for making me realize at 18 I was still scared of my mama.”
Overall, the experience wasn’t the most positive, likely the reason she doesn’t speak fondly of the possible benefits. But she did tell Cohen that even if she felt the show didn’t do anything for her career, she is thankful that she had the opportunity to be on it. When asked if she made it “in spite of the show,” Harlow said, “I wouldn’t like to say that because it was still a part of my history and I’m really grateful for everything I’ve done to get where I am.”
But the star still stands by what she said: