A Teen With Down Syndrome Models For Wet Seal: A Start, Not An End

Karrie Brown, 17, of Collinsville, IL, recently did a modeling shoot for Wet Seal. This wouldn’t be headline-making, except she landed it through social media. Also, she has Down syndrome.

When I first saw the photos of the shoot over at Today.com, I felt happy that another young person with special needs was appearing in an ad. The story started on Karrie’s Facebook page. A note posted read, “Karrie has Down syndrome, but she doesn’t let that stop her from following her dreams, which is to be a model. We recently found out that Wet Seal has started carrying plus-size clothing, which happens to be a great fit and fashion for girls with Down syndrome. Wet seal if you are listening, ‘Karrie fits in while standing out!’ and that’s directly from your mission statement.”

The message made its way to the Wet Seal powers-that-be, who promised “something special” if Karrie’s page got 10,000 likes by the end of the week. Brown got 14,000—and a photo shoot in L.A., with the company treating for flights, a hotel, a new wardrobe and a trip to Disneyland. All this is wonderful for Karrie, an aspiring model. But I think people are getting the wrong idea. A lot of the articles about this gushed about Karrie’s dreams coming true. Buzzfeed called her “adorable,” a patronizing description. Only a few, including ABC News, reported that Karrie’s photo shoot is set to be released on Wet Seal’s website and social channels in coming weeks. It was as if the actual ads themselves were not a big deal.

Companies placing kids and teens with special needs in ads isn’t exactly a trend, but it’s happening more and more. Last year, beautiful Valentina Guerrero—who also has DS—was chosen as the face of a swimwear line. Target, Nordstrom’s and Toys ‘R Us have also featured children with Down syndrome in their ads as well. Whether or not companies are doing this to get  attention is besides the point; this is what companies do, draw attention to themselves. It isn’t “exploiting” kids with special needs, as some naysayers have claimed, any more than using cute, attractive, photogenic kids without disabilities in ads is. Actually, it’s equalizing.

Karrie’s shoot was surely quite the thrill. But this is a young woman who wants to be a model. People should be talking about how this could be the start of her career. People should be talking about how Karrie will fit right in with all the other pretty young women on Wet Seal’s site. People should be talking about whether Karrie could be the first young woman with Down syndrome tapped by a major modeling agency. It’s belittling to say that her “dreams” came true with the photo shoot, because she is capable of achieving so much more.

Think about it this way: If Karrie were any young, aspiring model who happened to have caught Wet Seal’s attention through a Facebook campaign, would everyone be saying that the photo shoot itself had fulfilled her dreams? No, they wouldn’t. I’m thrilled this happened for Karrie, but I have higher hopes about where it could lead. We all should.

Photo: Screen grab, NewsAtUK video

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