'Bullied for being different, now I model for Fenty'

By Harriet Robinson

Image source, Chanel Hill
Image caption,
Chanel was bullied for her hair colour and her ethnicity during school

A model who was bullied for having a "ginger afro" says she now draws confidence from looking different.

As a child, Chanel Hill, 29, endured racist slurs and physical attacks linked to her ethnicity and hair.

Now bald and heavily tattooed, she is a model for Rihanna's lingerie line Savage x Fenty.

Miss Hill said as a child people "put cigarettes out on me, spat in my face, smashed food out of my hand".

She said growing up in Keynsham, a small town between Bristol and Bath, she was one of only two or three people in her primary school from a non-white background.

"I was bullied every single day. I had this one lad who made my life hell.

Image source, Visual Aspect/Killstar
Image caption,
"I know who I am and no one can tell me otherwise," said Miss Hill

"In my year six maths SATs he smashed a plastic chair round the back of my head," she added.

Miss Hill, who is also a makeup artist, said she, her sister and her dad were subjected to a lot of racist language and insults when she was growing up.

"[They said] we'd been left in the oven too long, we needed to go back to Africa."

Image source, Chanel Hill
Image caption,
"I realised what people told me were my weaknesses were my biggest strengths" said Miss Hill

It was when Miss Hill moved out of her hometown that she started embracing the idea of looking different to others.

Although her naturally red-haired afro made her stand out, she was still not comfortable with the type of attention it attracted.

"I used to hate people coming up and touching my hair," she said.

'So liberating'

When Rihanna started shaving the sides of her head, Miss Hill was inspired to do the same, eventually shaving it all off.

"It was so liberating. It's like taking your bra off at the end of the day but times 1,000," she said.

"I didn't need to be who everyone said I was."

Image source, Chanel Hill
Image caption,
Miss Hill has just opened the first black-owned makeup studio in the Welsh valleys

Miss Hill said her confidence came from not being able to compare herself to others because she looked so purposefully different to them.

In March she took part in transformation video where all of her tattoos were covered up and she was given a wig.

"You could just see me revert to that old me where I was trying to hide myself and cover myself up," she said.

Image source, Niamh and Chanel
Image caption,
Niamh said: "Chanel really helped me get my confidence up"

The model inspired confidence in an eight-year-old girl called Niamh who has alopecia.

"I was coming out of the toilets and she was going in. She just stood there, jaw on the floor," said Miss Hill.

"It was really nice seeing a bald woman," said Niamh, who is from Bristol.

"When you first get alopecia it feels like you're the only one in the world to have it.

"Now I know that people choose to be bald and they like it, it's not really a thing to be ashamed of," she added.

Image source, Chanel Hill
Image caption,
Miss Hill models for alternative clothing label Killstar and Rihanna's lingerie line Savage x Fenty

"Just growing up, I wish that there was someone that I could see in the spotlight that looked like me, or that was different," said Miss Hill.

She said that would have given her some "backbone" to fight back against the bullies.

Miss Hill has recently set up her own makeup studio in South Wales and gave Niamh, who wants to follow in her footsteps, her first makeup kit.

"I do feel like I'm going to be a model," said Niamh.

Though, she added: "If I ever have tattoos they'll be stickers."

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