The fashion industry has always been associated with strict physical standards, so it’s no surprise that when you look at the girls and guys who walk the runways of the world, many fit a general mold: tall, thin, classically beautiful, and most commonly of European descent. Over the years, the industry has been under pressure from the public to showcase the diversity in our society, and allow more diverse models to represent the major fashion houses of the world. One agency, Ugly Models, was started by two photographers who grew tired of the lack of diversity in the modelling industry, and decided to gather a collection of models who have an interesting and unconventional look. The agency represents three Guinness World Record holders, including the world’s most tattooed man, the world’s most pierced woman, and the world’s tallest man. Despite not fitting the classic ‘model’ mold, there are many models that have been challenging these standards and have achieved great levels of fame and success because of their uniqueness. Read on to discover these inspirational people who didn’t allow industry norms to prevent them from achieving their goals.
10. Rick Genest, The Tattooed Model Known As Zombie Boy
“No one will want to hire you if you have a tattoo!” is an all too familiar expression. This statement is more true for the fashion industry than any, as runways want to be able to work with a blank canvas for their models. Rick Genest is a model from Châteauguay, Quebec, who one day decided to live on the streets, using hitchhiking as his main method of transportation. He began tattooing himself, and eventually covered his entire body in corpse tattoos, which earned him the moniker ‘Zombie Boy’. Using his unique appearance, he began appearing in various freak-shows across Canada, and gained a great deal of publicity, which eventually lead to his discovery by Lady Gaga’s fashion director, Nicola Formichetti. He has since appeared in Nicola Formichetti’s shows, as well as Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Video. He has become the face for the European launch of Jay-Z’s line, Roc-A-Wear, and has been featured in editorials in Vogue and GQ, and has signed contracts with major brands such as L’Oreal and Dermablend. Talk about tattoos ruining your career…
9. Moffy, The Cross-Eyed Model
Moffy was first scouted by Storm Models at age 14. She was discovered at a festival, but she didn’t really start modelling until she was 18 years old, when she accepted a job for Pop magazine. This job happened to be the cover shot of Pop magazine, the iconic fashion publication founded by Katie Grand, which generated a lot of buzz because the fashion world was not yet used to seeing a model with strabismus (or a lazy eye, in layman’s terms) receive such attention. Her career has since taken off, despite her unusual look, with Moffy paving the way for other aspiring models who don’t fit the classic model mold.
8. Daphne Selfe, The 87-Year-Old Model Who Still Rocks A Bikini
The fashion industry is known for the short careers and its obsession with youth of the models. In spite of this, many models have been able to pursue a thriving career for decades (such as Tyra Banks, Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford), but the oldest model, Daphne Selfe, finally saw success when she first appeared on the cover of Vogue at the age of 70. This editorial lead to Daphne being signed by Models 1, one of the largest agencies in Europe and who represent the likes of Linda Evangelista and Twiggy. Since then, she’s been featured in campaigns for brands such as TK Maxx, Vans and Dare to Wear, and has walked numerous runways. Having turned 87 this year, Daphne is still modelling, making over $2000 per day of her time!
7. Chantelle Winnie, The Model Who Suffers From Vitiligo
When she was 4 years old, Chantelle was diagnosed with vitiligo, a disease that causes discolored patches to appear on the skin (the same disease that Michael Jackson had). Growing up, she felt the pressure to cover her skin, often wearing heavy makeup to cover the discolored patches. Despite this, she didn’t let her condition hold her back – although she was rejected by various agencies in Toronto, she ultimately made it onto America’s Top Model. She didn’t win, but the attention she received helped land her many major modelling jobs, including becoming the face of the Portuguese brand Desigual, landing an editorial in Vogue, and even walking the runway at NYFW.
6. Casey Legler, The Woman Who Works As A Male Model
Casey Legler first received media attention as the female swimmer with the shaved head, participating in the 1996 Summer Olympics. But her fashion career began when photographer Cass Bird needed a male model for a photoshoot for Muse magazine, and unable to find one, she called Casey to fill the role. She sent these to an agent at Ford Models, who immediately offered Casey a contract – as one of their male models. She accepted, and the rest has become the stuff of fashion industry legends. Although other models have taken on androgynous roles in their photoshoots, Casey is the first woman to be signed as a male model by a major agency.
5. Jillian Mercado, The Model With Muscular Dystrophy
Born with muscular dystrophy, an incurable condition which prevents muscles from developing and functioning properly, Jillian Mercado never planned to be a model. In fact, after meeting Nicola Formichetti, the artistic director of Diesel (as well as Lady Gaga’s fashion director), she went to a casting call for Diesel as a joke, thinking she would never get picked from the many young, tall models. A few days later however, she received an email from the company, asking for additional pictures. Jillian and a handful of other models were chosen to be the faces of Diesel’s new campaign, and unwilling to hide her condition, she brought her wheelchair to the photoshoot, and used it as an integral piece in the campaign.
4. Erika Ervin (Aka Amazon Eve), The World’s Tallest Model
Standing at an impressive 6’8, Erika is one of the tallest women in the world, and the world’s tallest model. She was always exceptionally tall while growing up, and suffered not only from terrible growing pains, but also from psychological torment from her peers. Early on, she began taking acting classes to boost her self-confidence and began auditioning for roles, but unfortunately often ended up landing those of monsters and beasts. Tired of being typecast, she became dedicated to fitness and became a personal trainer, which lead to her dabbling in fitness modelling. In 2011, she appeared in the Guinness World Records as the World’s Tallest Professional Model, and has since seen tremendous success in the modelling world, being able to tour the world as a professional fitness model. This success has also lead to the development of her acting career, with Erika being featured in the series Hemlock Grove and American Horror Story. She admitted that in 2004 she underwent a sex change operation, making her an inspiration and a role model for all.
3. Madeline Stuart, The Model With Down Syndrome
18-year-old Brisbane native, Madeline Stuart first drew media attention when she shared her inspirational weight loss story on social media. Not uncommon to people with Down Syndrome, she has struggled with her weight from an early age, but last year, she decided to focus on getting in shape because she wanted to be able to do handstands and cartwheels. She was able to lose this weight by pursuing all the activities she loves doing – swimming, cycling, dancing and running. Her story went viral, and within months she found herself presented with many modelling offers from various brands around the globe. She has now become the face of the brands Manifesta and everMaya, and has been using her fame and success to change the stigma around Down Syndrome.
2. Melanie Gaydos, The Model Who Suffers From Ectodermal Dysplasia
Melanie Gaydos was born with a rare genetic disorder called ectodermal dysplasia, that affects the development of skin, teeth, nails, and sometimes even bone structure. She was born with a bilateral cleft palate, as well as a form of alopecia, which causes hair follicles to grow inward, leading to ingrown hairs and rashes. Because of unchecked eyelash growth that scratched her corneas as a child, she suffers from partial blindness in both eyes. Despite her conditions, Melanie is one of the most popular models on the scene in the last few years. She began modelling as way of self-discovery through expression, and after being featured in a music video for the band Rammstein, she began receiving modelling contracts from major brands around the world. Although she prefers to only be featured in photoshoots through which she has full control of the artistic direction, she hopes to one day walk the runway for a major fashion house. Given her drive, we have no doubt that day will come sooner than expected.
1. Alex Minsky, The Ex-Marine Amputee Who Became An Underwear Model
At 17, Alex dropped out of school to smoke weed, party and pick up girls. When he turned 18 he enrolled in the Marines, to everyone’s surprise. While he was stationed in Afghanistan, his truck ran over an explosive, throwing him 13 meters into the air. He lost his leg, underwent 13 surgeries, and spent 58 days in a coma, with doctors being unsure if he would survive. After 17 months in the hospital, he was finally released, and Alex decided to focus on his personal health by quitting drinking and dedicating himself to improving his personal fitness. Tom Cullis, a well known fashion photographer, spotted him at the gym while he was doing one-legged push ups, and approached him with the idea of starring in a photoshoot. These went viral, with offers pouring in for Alex to star in various editorials, with Alex showing off his fit body and his prosthetic leg (which he named Clark) to draw awareness to the condition of war veterans. Today, at 25, he’s become the face of an ad for the Hunger Games, as well as an easily recognizable nude model and a gay icon.