Christie Brinkley, 63, and 16 other models who defy conventional beauty standards

A roundup of the ageless, curvy, trans and other unconventional beauties we love to love.

A roundup of the ageless, curvy, trans and other unconventional beauties we love to love.

(Source, left: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images; middle: Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Harper's BAZAAR; right: Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)

This article was originally published Februrary 8, 2017

This week Christie Brinkley announced her return to Sports Illustrated, the publication that made her a household name 40 years ago, when she was on the cover of their Swimsuit Issue three years in a row. This time, though, the 63-year-old stunner brought her daughters, Alexa Ray Joel and Sailor Brinkley Cook, with her and made it a family portrait. You know, just like the ones we all used to get at Sears. Maybe a little less awkward.

Even though she's been the literal poster girl for empirical beauty since the '80s, Brinkley remembers dealing with strong self-doubt. "This is a real full circle moment for me. And I can get very emotional about this. How, many years ago, I was that insecure girl and hoping that I would be good enough for the magazine" she confessed as she fought off tears.

Note that Christie Brinkley worrying about being pretty enough is something to take with you next time you go jean shopping.

And though it's plain that Brinkley and her daughters won the genetic lottery, the shoot is something of a touchstone for our times. Beauty no longer has an expiration date. What's more, the zeitgeist is howling louder than ever: beauty is no longer really just one thing. It is not embodied by one kind of person, or by an elite few.

You can still become a model after 50. The rise of the no-makeup trend champions individual realness in beauty. And the body-positivity movement has us celebrating everyone from differently-abled, trans, older, and plus-sized models. It's official, "true" beauty is no longer exclusive.  

Need a little proof? Here are some unconventional models who truly stand apart and defy a whole bunch of pretty tired beauty standards:


Ageless Beauty

Jacky O'Shaughnessy was discovered at the age of 62. Your window is still open.  ​


Some are truly genetically blessed, like 45 year old IG model, Risa Hirako. Again that's 45 years old.  


Carmen Dell'orefice is 83 and pretty much puts the gold back in Golden Girls. She's modeled for Louis Vuitton, Hermés and Montblanc. She was even Salvador Dali's muse.


Maye Musk has been modeling for 50 years. She's also a nutritionist. Go find some Kale.


That goes for men too. Philippe Dumas was discovered in his 60s.


Aiden Brady has been performing and modelling his whole life proving there is no shelf life on hot.


Canada's own Paul Mason, the original Fashion Santa is 53


Curvy Beauty

Ashley Graham is a household name and had her own Sport Illustrated cover shoot last year. Something met with universal applause.


Tess Holliday is a controversial model whose corpulent aesthetic mirrors the reality of many North American women. Beauty is not one size fits all.


Justine Legault is a young Quebec model who now works out of NYC. Her generation will likely do away with qualifiers like "plus-sized".


Unconventional Beauty

Jillian Mercado has headlined campaigns for Diesel and works regularly as a model despite having spastic muscular dystrophy.


Viktoria Modesta opted for a voluntary amputation following years of medical complications with her left leg.


Melanie Gaydos was born with a hereditary condition known as ectodermal dysplasia giving her a truly distinct aesthetic.


Winnie Harlow has vitiligo, a skin condition that affects pigment. And though her beauty is undeniable, ten years ago she likely wouldn't have been modeling.


Transtastic Beauty

Isis King is a model who appears in the Whoopi Goldberg produced reality show STRUT. The show focuses on trans models in the fashion industry.


Ines Rau is a trans model and vocal LGBTQ spokesperson, when she's not killing on the runway.


Probably the most recognizable trans model in the world, androgynous beauty Andreja Pejic modeled before and after transitioning.


Granted, these are beautiful people regardless of how much they run counter to once established norms. Plus, beauty standards have always changed over time so it's wise to stay mindful that "beauty" is a moving target anyway. Men used to wear makeup as a matter of course. Our own CBC Life beauty guru, Kyne Santos, offers makeup tutorials for both men and women.

Some even say that "ugliness" is the last unchallenged prejudice and can't be defended against but it too is a moving target as our benchmarks for empirical beauty get moved.

Last thing. That old chestnut still holds true: beauty's in the eye of the beholder. Which is why you'll probably end up happily married to a balding accountant and not a lantern-jawed doctor. Or just end up loving yourself instead. Which, if inclusivity continues to trend, could lead to a modelling contract. Amen to that.