08/21/2014 11:17 EDT | Updated 10/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Canadian catwalker with vitiligo competes to become 'America's Next Top Model'

TORONTO - The border proved to be no barrier for Chantelle Brown-Young as the Canadian is now in the running to become "America's Next Top Model," thanks in part to the show's host, Tyra Banks.

"She saw my Instagram and she had the producers for 'ANTM' look me up and find out who I was, where I was and how to get to me," she recalled in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Cycle 21 of the modelling competition series premieres Friday at 9 p.m. ET and PT on City, but Brown-Young has been making headlines months before the latest instalment even hit the airwaves. The 20-year-old admits the attention isn't entirely new due in large part to her unique look and her outspokenness about her distinctive skin.

The striking Toronto model has vitiligo, a skin condition in which a loss of pigment causes patches of the skin to appear light or white. She said she was first diagnosed at age four after the discovery of a small patch on her stomach.

Brown-Young said she was teased and bullied growing up and subjected to a lot of verbal abuse. She wound up dropping out of high school and was working towards her GED when she was called for "ANTM."

"I feel like the separation from the negativity I experienced in school helped me to realize how beautiful I was because I wasn't so focused on the opinions of other people," she said.

"That's not me saying anyone should go and drop out of school. That's more me saying you need to focus on the positives in your life and not so much the negatives. For me at that time, it took me just not being in that situation anymore and focusing on me being happy and not worrying about other people felt about me; and just remembering that it's my life to live and I have to be happy with me because I have to be with me for the rest of my life."

Brown-Young has been working as a model for about two years, freelancing as she took part in shows and photo shoots and posted her work hoping to get noticed.

When asked if she's ever been asked by clients to cover up her patches, Brown-Young said her distinctive look is part of her appeal.

"There's many people in this world who don't have my skin condition. I'm pretty sure if any company wanted a girl who didn't have my skin condition they would just hire them," she said.

"If someone was to hire Cara Delevingne or Jourdan Dunn, they're looking for that person and they're looking for those features. And my features are just as distinct as Cara's beautiful, striking eyes. And (if) someone's going to want her for her beautiful, striking eyes, people are definitely going to want me for my striking skin."

Brown-Young has established a strong social media presence with more than 200,000 followers on her Instagram account winnieharlow, where she describes herself as a "vitiligo spokesmodel."

"I get a lot of mixed feedback," she said. "There are a lot of people who are very happy, very proud, and very surprised, of course, to see someone that has the same skin condition as them going after their dreams of modelling.

"I actually read a comment yesterday that said: 'I always wanted to be a model and I never thought it was possible with vitiligo.' And I'm like: 'Hey, I remember when I thought the same thing.' I'm happy I'm going for my dreams and showing people that they can go for theirs as well."

Brown-Young is among 14 contestants taking part in the second "Guys and Girls" edition of "ANTM." The prize package includes a $100,000 cash prize from Guess, a fashion feature in Nylon Magazine and a modelling contract with Next Model Management.

She described the process as "very, very intense."

"It was like living in a dorm. You're going to have your ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we're all human. It was a fun experience."

While former "ANTM" contenders have branched out into acting and hosting, Brown-Young remains fixed on staying the course.

"I want to continue pursuing my modelling career and get as far as possible with it as I can. I'm focused on it and I hope that that focus benefits me."

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