A facial abnormality.
A physical disability.
A genetic disorder.
It doesn't matter what the cause--if your child is somehow different, you may feel that the world just doesn't see him the way you do. People may miss the joy in her expressions. They may overlook that he has feelings like any other kid. Or maybe they don't want to look at your child at all, out of discomfort and fear.
A photographer named Rick Guidotti has been on a mission to change this. After a career shooting for clients like Revlon (where he photographed Cindy Crawford), Elle, and GQ, he had a revelation: The work wasn't challenging enough. His subjects were gorgeous, no doubt, but he wasn't able to--or even supposed to--capture who they really were as people. He was tasked simply with making sure a beautiful person looked beautiful. And as a result, he'd peer into the camera and think, "I don't even have to be here," he explains in the new documentary short, "On Beauty." Shortly thereafter, he spotted a teenage girl with albinism waiting for a bus, and, stunned by her striking appearance, asked if he could photograph her. She declined, but it compelled him to learn more about albinism. He pored through medical textbooks and saw one depressing image after another. "They were images without humanity. Of sadness. Of illness. Of despair," he says. And then he realized what he truly wanted to do with his career: change how people see difference.
Starting with the National Organization of Albinism, he began photographing affected children; he soon landed a photo essay in Life magazine. Suddenly, he was hearing from people all over the world, mostly parents asking him to meet and photograph their child. And this is what led him to found the nonprofit Positive Exposure, which goes far beyond photographs and has evolved into a variety of programs to promote inclusion and compassion. He's also working with the medical community to create educational videos for doctors about various genetic conditions that show children looking like children, not like unhappy specimens. (He candidly explains the need for this kind of program: "What do I do if my daughter or my son is diagnosed with this condition? I would run to medical textbooks--and your only option here would be suicide, because you start to mourn when you see that these are the images.")
"On Beauty," which premiered in Los Angeles last week and debuts in New York City this Friday, is a 30-minute film filled with beautiful moments. You meet a young woman whose birthmark led her to be shunned and teased as a child; she ended up leaving elementary school to be homeschooled. When did she finally feel beautiful? "I started to really accept myself when I met Rick." And you get to know Jayne, from Eastern Africa, where her albinism made her such an outcast her own mother didn't want her. She's now at UC Berkeley, part of a leadership program that will bring her to the White House next month. In other words, "On Beauty" has a serious message, but it's presented in the most uplifting way possible.
Kara Corridan is Parents' health director, and a mom of two daughters.
Photo of Tyler, who has a congenital melanocytic nevus, by Rick Guidotti.