A fellow blogger and parent of a child who is disabled commented on a note of mine on Facebook regarding a little girl who has Down Syndrome that was chosen to be the main model for a swimsuit designer. He, like many, has issues with having this cutie pie – and others like her – being used in advertising.
Let me start off by saying that I have mixed feelings about advertising the fact that a kid with Down Syndrome (or any other disability) is the main attraction for a clothing line. There’s always gonna be people (like me) wondering if this kid was chosen as a PC move by the designer in order to ramp up media coverage thereby increasing sales. I hate the thought of my kid being used for someone’s bottom line. On the other hand, I would have loved for my daughter to have been considered beautiful enough to be a model if she didn’t have Cerebral Palsy so why should I feel differently since she does have it? Who am I to take away someone’s opportunity or blast them for choosing to go the modeling route just because they fill a niche – the disability niche. There’s nothing inherently wrong with choosing this as a career, disabled or not.
He feels “the use (abuse) of handicapped kids in fashion advertising [is] to promote the delusion of inclusion”. I ask: Why is inclusion a delusion? Is it so farfetched to believe that one day people of ALL kinds will be used in advertising? Hell no, it’s not! It was not too long ago that blacks were NOT included in fashion advertising, least of all as the main model or on the front page but that has changed, hasn’t it? I’m not saying it’s perfect but the reality is, when we talk about black models, we don’t talk about “inclusion”. Why not? Because it’s the NORM.
Here’s another question I have regarding my peer’s statement. How is it an abuse? Because the swimwear designer purposely picked a kid with Down Syndrome, most likely in part because she felt that would get a buzz going about her line and thereby up her sales? Let’s expand on my example above. Maybe initially designers and magazines started using black models for the wrong reason – sales – but today it is because it is quite obvious that people of any skin color can be beautiful. And yes, for sales. That’s what magazines & clothing designers need to do: sell! And they will pick the people that they think will do the best job for them. When we look through a regular ol’ catalog for women’s wear, for example, we are not going to see fat, hairy women with warts and greasy hair.
Uhh, yeah, this won't make me wanna buy anything!
We are going to see the beautiful women; the elite; the glamorous. That’s why they’re called models. They are the ones that will show off the clothing the best (in the eyes of the designer and of the general public).
Again I say, with able-bodied folks, designers want to pick the best of the best. Why should it be different for disabled folks? Should they get special treatment because they’re, well, special? NO! I don’t want my kid to be picked for ANYthing just because she’s in a wheelchair. Don’t feel sorry for her. Believe me, she’s got a great life and doesn’t need you to feel sorry for her. But if she deserves an accolade, pat on the shoulder or photo shoot spread, then by all means, bring it on!
The more I think about it the more I realize that I would much rather designers include these kids (and adults for that matter) even if it’s for the wrong reason because it gets wheelchairs, Down Syndrome, walkers, AFO’S, splints, hearing aids, etc., into the mouths of the general public. Honestly, I can't wait for the day when we as a society don't feel the need to announce the fact that a cover girl is someone who has a disability because then I will know that someone who is seen as "different" today is just another part of the crowd, like me. That’s only gonna happen by getting more people like our kids into these publications.
We only have to talk about “inclusion” when it’s not happening. Once it gets on a roll, it just IS. Get it?