‘It’s Miaaaa and meeee!’ she squealed excitedly as we opened the colourful booklet that had plopped through the door that morning in 2012.
We all squeezed together in the chair so that we could get a closer look. This time we all squealed. ‘It’s yoooou!’ smiles stretched across every face in the family.
Kurt and Lucy who run Frugi had replied to my letter, one of 10s sent out to local businesses, asking if Natty could be a model for their brand. They simply said that she was a beautiful little girl with a big personality, and that was their only criteria. Natty was picked just for being Natty.
I fell silent as I fought back a tear or two, my heart swollen with pride as I allowed the true significance of what I had just seen to sink in. This was so much more than a Mum seeing her children’s faces in a clothing catalogue. For Natty has Down’s syndrome and this was one of the first times that a child with any kind of disability, physical or intellectual had been featured in an advertising campaign in this country.
These bright images were proof that beauty comes in many forms. All the children within them have their own unique personalities and are of equal worth. They are just part of the gang. And of course all children, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, love funky new clothes!
The message behind the images cannot be ignored. We all need to see ourselves represented in the media. It’s important for self-worth and confidence, something that many children with a disability can find difficult.
Gone are the distant stereotypes of children with Down’s syndrome being deemed ineducable, unable to learn, have a job, friendships or hobbies.
Gone are the notions of children like Natty not being worthy of lovely clothes, of having to wear hard-wearing institution garments, of shameful regulation haircuts, of being ‘put away and forgotten’ as they were segregated from society in institutions.
Over the years Natty has continued to work for Frugi and other big name brands, and not only does her confidence get a boost along with her peers, but new parents of a child with Down’s syndrome are given hope. They see that there are no limits on our children, that they can achieve whatever they set out to do.
The impact on new parents cannot be underestimated either. Messages from those with a recent diagnosis or new baby with Down’s syndrome have flooded in, saying just how much hope they have found within the images.
As far as 7 year old Natty is concerned of course this is a massive boost for her confidence, although she is no stranger to modeling and seeing herself centre stage. It is an important message that we set no limits on what she can achieve in life, just as we encourage her big sister in the same way.
It’s high time that real society was reflected fully on our screens. We see models of different sizes, ethnic backgrounds and sporting different looks. When will a model who is a wheelchair user become a non-noteworthy norm? Hopefully not too far on the horizon if campaign group Models of Diversity have their way.
This too is precisely how we view our daughter, a fun-loving, cake-baking, water baby. An avid reader, a show-off, a sometimes annoying little sister. A unique and bright personality, just one of our gang, not a set of possible symptoms and predictions for her future. Yes, she has an extra chromosome and it is an important part of who she is, but it does not define her, it is just one aspect of her being.
And when I look at those leaflets currently plopping onto our doormat, I see that she is more alike the other children within their pages than she is different, albeit one with a subtle ground-breaking message for the world. And if we change the attitudes and perceptions of just one shopper, then we have achieved our goal.