Getting Ready

Winnie Harlow on the One Thing She Can’t Stop Screen Grabbing

The model talks the importance of empowerment, her experience in Kenya with ME to WE (and rushing back to walk the red carpet with Beyoncé), and how she chills out.

By: Noah Lehava
Styling: Emily Ramshaw
Photography: Ben Ritter, Sierra Simone

Sure, acting as fly-on-the-wall (with the occasional glass of champagne) ahead of a big Hollywood-fueled event like the Oscars is great and all. (Okay, it’s really fun!) But there is something extra special about being with someone like Winnie Harlow mere hours before she’s set to take the stage in front of 6,000 kids to speak about empowerment on WE Day in New York. (It isn’t her first time; she spoke at the Toronto event last year.) The energy, if we had to put it in a word: exhilarating.

“I’m a bit more ready for it now because I have done it before, but I’m still a little nervous,” Harlow confessed to us as she swept a final streak of lipstick on. As we balanced hand-beaded bracelets by Kenyan artisans (which Harlow witnessed being made in Africa last summer), we got to talking about how notions of beauty are taught, not inherent, why she doesn’t want to be a movement, and that time she raced halfway across the world to walk the red carpet with Beyoncé.


“I think it is human nature to have confidence—the same way I don’t think people are born with racism or anything negative. All those things are developed.”

“I think we’ll always have our insecurities, but it’s important to focus on yourself. “

“Kids are the most sensible—they grab onto things easier than [adults] do. We, as adults, have been taught these notions for so long and are set in our ways. I was at my friend's house about seven years ago, and she had a little cousin who came over to visit. She came up to me and said, ‘Why is your skin like that?’ I said, ‘I have a skin condition called vitiligo.’ Mind you, she was six years old. She was like, ‘You are so pretty and so different.’ That is what she was taught—you only learn that something is ‘not normal’ or ‘ugly’ or whatever from the outside world. It is really what you learn, absorb, and what you teach.”

“I was in Kenya last August [with ME to WE]. It was amazing. I got the chance to talk to one of the mamas in the community and learn of her experience. Seeing her interact with the kids and interact with the people, and the respect that she had for them and they had for her, it was really beautiful.”

“I didn’t want to leave Kenya—until I got the call to do the red carpet with Beyoncé for the VMAs. I definitely want to go back, though. I am so happy that I had the opportunity to go [to Kenya] because going in with an open mind allowed me to absorb so much more of the culture, the food, the people, the atmosphere, and everything that they were doing.”

“I was extremely nervous to be up onstage in front of so many people [the first time I spoke at WE Day]. WE Day is massive. It’s insane, which is amazing. It was a little bit intimidating getting up onstage. I think I’m a little bit more ready for it now because I have done it before, but I’m still a little bit nervous.”

“Today I asked to be a sun-kissed goddess. I will be wearing a very summery look, so it will go well with the golden, shimmering goddess makeup.”

How she chills out before a big appearance:

“I don’t work out right before, but I definitely work out in the buildup to an event. A week before, I go to the gym three times a week. “

“I couldn’t even tell you [what the last thing I screen-shot was] because I screen-shot everything. I have over 20,000 photos on my phone! I pay for storage with Apple every single month. I am that friend who screen-shots the SnapChat conversations and then everyone knows. Listen, you might as well text me because I’m going to screen-shot everything anyway. I have a bad memory—I am not trying to be sneaky, I just won’t remember.”

“[My dream dinner party guest would be] Beyoncé. The twins can come along too. They have to at this point.”

“A lot of people don’t know that the best time to go to Toronto is in the summer—we have beautiful summers. Everyone assumes we live in igloos and we are best friends with polar bears. The best time of year to come is around the end of July, beginning of August because that is when we have our Caribbean Carnival.”