Model Shaun Ross Is Changing The World One Instagram Post At A Time
24-year-old male model, activist and artist Shaun Ross has a simple goal: He wants to inspire you. Although Ross has modeled for huge, global brands like Alexander McQueen and Givenchy as well as starred in music videos by pop culture royalty like Beyoncé, Katy Perry and Lana Del Rey, the thing he’s most proud of is an Instagram turned IRL movement called “In My Skin I Win” that’s attempting to change the way society “has embedded in our heads that we have to live up to certain standards in order to be considered, or classified as great.”
Being born with albinism, Shaun Ross has a unique grasp of what it means to be considered different. As a child, he was constantly bullied and made to feel less than because of the skin he was born in. But don’t get it twisted: If you hear Ross tell a story about being bullied as a child, he’s not looking for pity. Shaun Ross doesn’t feel sorry for himself, he feels himself. “I’ve been raised and I’ve been taught to look at things in a way that’s maybe not as negative as others would. If somebody’s making fun of me or saying something rude, in my head, sometimes I don’t even hear it.”
Shaun’s philosophy for how to best bring about change is simple: Stop focusing on the bullies, and turn your attention inwards. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to be your own champion. “We have a choice with everything that we do. Even if it’s the most negative things so far as, you know this person said this, or that person’s looking at me like that, or my job sucks and I’m not making enough money, we can choose to look at it negatively, or we can choose to look at it positively.”
“Everybody always says, especially in America, that we’re all different, but I don’t think anybody ever embraces the fact that we are actually different. And not just because of our physical beings, but also the way we live our lives and the way we think.”
Although Ross has always been attracted to the idea of social change, “In My Skin I Win” happened because of Instagram. “I was inspired by a photo I received from a Mom on Instagram of her daughter who had albinism, and I just, you know looking at her, she just looked so happy, so joyous, and I just feel like anybody who’s like her is just winning because they’ve found self-confidence.”
Recognizing a need for a save space for people who looked different, or lived their lives outside of the norm, to be appreciated for being more than just a novelty. “When you look at people who are different it shouldn’t just be like, one thing that they can do. I think that the fact that we’ve only allowed that type of appearance to be considered as a novelty and nothing else is a pity. Everybody always says, especially in America, that we’re all different, but I don’t think anybody ever embraces the fact that we are actually different. And not just because of our physical beings, but also the way we live our lives and the way we think.”
12,754 posts later, “In My Skin I Win” is more than just a social media movement, it’s a feeling. “I’ve noticed that people aren’t only posting it to get attention. They’re also posting it because it’s just the way they feel. And that’s something I think is more important,” Ross explained. “There are people out there who, to the average person, they’re hot, there’s nothing wrong with them. And maybe there isn’t to the masses, but they’re not hashtagging #InMySkinIWin because there’s something wrong, they’re tagging it because they feel good. And I think that’s the overall message. To feel good.”
I asked Shaun if he felt that his purpose on Earth was to be a role model: “At moments I feel that way, but I think it’s very pompous to say that,” he answered with a Dr. Seuss quote.
“It’s so funny how a children’s book can literally set you up for life. I’m not sure what the quote is by heart, but basically it says something like, you have shoes and you have feet, but there’s nobody more you-r than you. So when I look at everybody, that’s how I feel. We all have separate missions, but there’s nobody else in this world that can do it just like how you do it.”
Now that “In My Skin I Win” has succeeded as a movement, and as a feeling, it’s making the leap into the real world. Earlier this summer, while NYFW was still in full swing, Ross debuted a collaboration with designer Nina Athanasiou that’s got Shaun Ross scribbled all over it. Literally. “It’s gonna sound self-absorbed but the collection is basically just pictures of me in various ways. At first I was actually kind of against it because I though it would look so tacky, but then I thought to myself, why the hell not? We can wear t-shirts with the Mona Lisa on them, we can wear t-shirts that have Kate Moss on them and it’s not tacky at all. It’s just a thing.”
From there, the collection grew to include, “dresses, jackets, those kinds of things” and funnily enough, “a lot of people walked into the collection and after 30-40 minutes they didn’t even realize my face was on it.”
For the collection’s NYFW debut, Shaun “wanted to show different walks of life. I didn’t want it to be a freak show, or a charity case – I didn’t want anybody to feel bad for the models. No. I wanted to show people real life. Like, this is what people look like. Like when you look on the runways, you see humans but everybody doesn’t look that way.” In fact, most people don’t. Myself included.
Shaun’s open casting drew between 400-500 models who spend their Labour Day waiting in a line that stretched the entire length of Houston Street. In the fashion world, where one day you’re in and the next you’re out, it’s nice to see a movement making the justified leap from online inspo to legitimate inspiration.
All photos curtesy of Shaun Ross.