Woman With Down’s Syndrome Surprised With Photo Shoot For Birthday
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There have been growing calls for the fashion and modelling industries to include people who do not conform to idealised standards of beauty. Campaigners want people with different looks, styles and abilities to be featured alongside the typical models, performers and artists that we've seen for decades. The tide is slowly turning.
US catalogue Nordstrom has been leading the way in terms of diversity by using models with disabilities every season since 1997. UK fashion retailer River Island was praised last year for featuring its first Down's syndrome model and they've included even more with subsequent catalogues.
Chris Garafola has been modelling in Boston, USA for five years, but he has also been doing his bit to make his working environment more inclusive. One way he's raised the profile of people with different abilities is organising a photo shoot for his younger sister, Brittany, who has Down's syndrome.
Down's syndrome is a genetic condition that is caused by an extra chromosome in a baby's cell. NHS Choices says this isn't necessarily a hereditary gene, but more of a one-off change in the specific sperm or egg. It can result in a level of learning difficulty and several physical characteristics.
Chris tells LADbible: "Growing up, my sister has always wanted to do everything I did. Whether it was going to the movies to watch the latest feature film or moving out of the house to live on my own - she wanted the same opportunities, and deservedly so.
"Being in the fashion industry, I realised I had a huge network that could potentially make this happen - not to mention, Brittany's birthday was coming up. I wanted to do something extra special because I know how much it would mean to her."
But organising a professional photo shoot is no small task, so the Boston resident called on his followers on social media to help out.
In his Instagram post, the 30-year-old called on hair stylists, photographers, studio owners and videographers in the area to lend a hand. The response he received was overwhelming.
"I had messages from all over the world," he said. "It was unbelievable how many people wanted to be a part of this.
"It was such a difficult decision to make because I didn't want somebody who was just an amazing photographer - they had to be a good person deep down because they were working with my sister with special needs."
Brittany, 32, was ecstatic about the surprise and loved the results of the photoshoot. She had her full hair and makeup done by a team, with another crew organising the flower arrangement.
Chris believes this move towards diversification needs to continue, adding: "It not only drives awareness around people with special needs, it goes one step further, it drives wider acceptance. It also challenges what our society generally considers 'beautiful'.
"Everybody should have the same opportunities in this life no matter where they're born or what they're born with.
"Beauty comes in so many different forms. Love is beauty. Confidence is beauty. Charisma and character is beauty."
Chris' hope to see people with different abilities featured in fashion ads and projects is slowly being realised.
Last year's Belfast Fashion Week saw its first model with Down's syndrome go down the catwalk, with the crowd giving Kate Grant a standing ovation. Two-year-old Lily Beddall, who also has Down's syndrome, was chosen to be a part of a campaign with retail giant Matalan and her face was put on in-store billboards around the UK.
Zebedee is a UK agency for models, actors and performers with disabilities which also makes sure its artists are comfortable on set.
These are just some of the examples where people from different backgrounds and abilities are being included in the fashion and modelling industries.
Down's Syndrome Association UK spokeswoman Kate Potter tells LADbible: "It is great to see more and more children and adults with Down's syndrome being represented in all parts of our society, including in adverts, as models, on stage and screen and also in schools and workplaces.
"Given the right support and opportunities people with Down's syndrome can make an enormous contribution to their families, local communities and society in general in all sorts of different ways."