Twenty-eight-year-old Melanie Gaydos was born with ectodermal dysplasia, a rare genetic condition that affects the development of teeth, nails, hair, pores and small bones. She also has alopecia and is legally blind from abnormal eyelash growth that damaged her eyes as a child.
The list of Melanie’s physical limitations can go on and on, but surprisingly, the laundry list of her aesthetic abnormalities doesn’t hold her back one bit from showcasing her brand of beauty as one of the highest demand, up-and-coming models in the fashion industry.
But Melanie’s life wasn’t always so glamorous. At age 16, she struggled severely with depression and suicidal tendencies from all the bullying she experienced as a child. In fact, she testifies that she didn’t think she would make it past age 18. However, she decided to write a different end to her story.
Her love for art and acting drew her to New York City where she studied fine art at Pratt. It was her initial interest in self-portraiture that eventually led her to experiment with modeling—though she wasn’t always so sure her newfound passion would go anywhere.
“I used to hate having anyone take my picture, and I was still nervous about modeling for others,” she said, according to Yahoo! Style.
It was actually her boyfriend at the time who convinced her that she had what it takes to succeed in modeling:
“He helped me to understand that I am the only person who looks like me, that there was potential,” says Gaydos.
This much-needed encouragement, along with a dose of self-esteem and her fascination with being “larger than life,” propelled Gaydos to new heights that she never thought possible.
What started as a few gigs on Craigslist has morphed into a full-time career, with fashion photographers from around the world vying for her talent.
Melanie is careful in choosing the photographers and designers she works with in order to avoid reducing herself to someone’s gimmick:
“I only work with photographers whose work I enjoy, and I think my personal taste has really strengthened my portfolio.”
Even more admirable than maintaining her self-respect in the industry is the perception she holds of her disorder. When asked if she still struggles to cope with the ectodermal dysplasia, she boldly stated:
“No. It doesn’t bother me, and it never did. Or if it did, it’s because it was something people were telling me I should be upset about. People used to ask me: How do you eat without teeth? Well, people with no legs run marathons. It’s all a matter of perception.”
Melanie used to mask herself in fake teeth and wigs—but then she realized that while her attempted normalcy made others feel more at ease, she wasn’t comfortable in her own skin.
So now she rocks her bare head and three baby teeth to the beat of her own drum…
The look that once crushed her as a child has become her success story.
Some call it unique. Some call it alien-esque. Others call it futuristic. I call it gutsy glamour.
As one all too familiar with the struggle of self-image, I absolutely love this girl’s bravery to embrace imperfection by slamming our cookie-cutter culture in the face with her uniqueness.
Cheers to this new “It Girl” for having the boldness to proudly wear the skin she’s in.
As the great Jim Carrey once said, “Risk being seen in all of your glory.”
Thank you, Melanie, for doing just THAT.