Down Syndrome Girl Is Swimsuit Model: Progress… Or Not?


10-month-old Valentina Guerrero is featured on the cover of the American catalog for the 2013 kids’ swimsuit collection by Spanish designer Dolores Cortés. Valentina has Down Syndrome: Says Cortés in a statement: “People with Down syndrome are just as beautiful and deserve the same opportunities.”

Cortés contacted Valentina’s family about the little girl appearing as a model. As Ceceliz Guerrero, told the Down Syndrome Association of Miami, she “was excited mainly because the fact that they are placing Valentina on the  cover of a catalogue sends a very clear message of inclusion; all children deserve the same opportunities, regardless of their physical, economic, social, racial or medical condition.”

6-year-old Ryan Langston (who also has Down Syndrome) has appeared in ads for Nordstrom and Target. But, as AdWeek reports, Valentina “is said to be the first person with Down syndrome in history to be the main model of a campaign from a prestigious fashion designer.”

Why Make a Big Deal About Valentina Having Down Syndrome?

Certainly there should be more models with disabilities. But are Cortés, and the advertising world, giving themselves too big a pat on the back for showing how inclusive and open they are, to feature a child with disabilities? The Huffington Post quotes XOJane’s S.E. Smith:

While I firmly believe that things like this are important social steps, the larger the production made about them, the more disabled models are othered. When you’re singling them out for special attention, you’re reminding everyone that they’re different, instead of just working models like anyone else.

Ellen Seidman at LoveThatMax has a thoughtful take on Smith critiquing Cortés for apparently wanting to broadcast her “progressiveness.” She writes:

OK, my first instinct also was it’s wrong for a company to get all self-promotional about this. But then I thought it through, and I’ve decided that if a company chooses to make a big deal out of featuring a child with Down syndrome in their ads it can be a Good Thing. For one, it can help spark conversation about inclusion. Also, the more attention models like Valentina get, the more likely it is that other companies will join in—and the more it has a chance of becoming a “norm.” We are so, so far away from that right now.

It is simply true. Being an afterthought in the public eye is the norm not the exception for kids with disabilities. Too often, the only reason the media reports about kids with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism or other disabilities is because something terrible, shocking and sensational happens, not because of something positive.

As excited I was to see Valentina featured, one thought has been nagging at me. She is so young — not even a year old. In response to the notion that “Once Valentina is no longer sufficiently cute, she’ll be out of work,” Ellen writes “Why the assumption that this beautiful child won’t stay beautiful? … Maybe Valentina will continue to land modeling contracts for her good looks, charm and popularity, if that’s what her parents want.”

Kids With Disabilities Become Adults With Disabilities

I’ve no doubt Valentina will keep that sparkling smile. My son Charlie‘s smile is certainly as beautiful as it was when he was her age, when he was a chubby-cheeked toddler, when he was a 7-year-old rapidly getting too big for me to carry. Despite some bad bouts of that teenage scourge, acne, and the scars above his nose from banging his face through a window of our car, his smile endures.

Charlie is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum. As he has grown older, for all the public attention cast onto autism and the growth of schools, programs and opportunities for autistic children, the simple reality has set in. When kids with disabilities become teenagers and then adults with disabilities, public interest fades, for all the passionate advocacy of parents and so many others. Our society is happy to show how much it accepts and includes cute kids with disabilities but it’s another story when they’re teenage boys trying to understand their changing bodies, their yearnings for independence that is curtailed due to their disabilities and their deep annoyance at being called “cute.”

Yes, Charlie doesn’t appreciate being called “cute,” “darling,” “sweet,” “adorable,” any more than any teenage boy would. He would have zero interest for modeling anything. He sometimes has that teenage boy “leave me alone, I’ll let you know when I need you if ever, ‘kay?” attitude. Because he is very minimally verbal, he can’t say any of this to us.

Eileen Riley-Hall addresses this very issue of kids with disabilities growing up in a recent post on the New York Times Motherlode blog. Riley-Hall has two daughters on the autism spectrum, 15-year-old Lizzie and 13-year-old Caroline. Negotiating independence and protection is a complicated dance: Is it time to teach Caroline to use an electric razor rather than Riley-Hall helping her apply Nair? How far can Lizzie go from their house while walking the dog?

Would not a real sign of change in our society be if an older Valentina were offered modeling opportunities but she turned them down because that’s just not what she wants to do?


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Photo of Valentina Guerrero from DCKids

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Jane R.
Jane R.3 years ago

What a beautiful little girl. She should not be treated any differently than any other. She should have every opportunity as other babies. I wish her lots of luck and happiness.

LaRhonda Garrett
LaRhonda Garrett3 years ago

She's really beautiful!!! and there's something wrong with this why?

Charli S.
Charlotte S.3 years ago

First of all the title should be Girl with Down's Syndrome Is Swimsuit Model. She has the disease she is NOT the disease. And what's wrong with her modeling the suit? I think she look wonderful and happy. No one objects to "exploiting normal" kids. Could it be that someone is uncomfortable? And who ever thought up the name DC Kids might want to think about that label. Disabilities do not define a person and they are not the person. Kids with DC might be more accurate. I worked educating the public about persons with Developmental Disabilities and the biggest lesson we tried to teach was that a disability does not define the person so there are no DD people there are only people with DD. After all we don't call people with Cancer a Cancer kid.

Helle H.
Helle H.3 years ago

She a chute child so why not use her as a model. My sitster was that most beautiful child, but it didn't last, but it could have been funny to watch those pictures now. I find it very disgusting to see small children used as models and then later made up with make-up and botox.

Chris Sterry
Chris Sterry3 years ago

What is the problem, in the meaning of Christianity all are equal.

If she has what the advertisers are looking for and there is no distress to the child, then there is no problem.

Lika S.
Lika S.3 years ago

While I think it's great that we are not discriminating against disabilities, I am wondering why this is such a big issue, especially since one of our Olympians is a runner that has blade runner feet.

Tammy B.
Tammy B.3 years ago

Everybody should stop criticizing the down syndrome model for taking the job as well as the one that hired her and even the fact that she is so young. Tell you I had a baby with down's and after heart surgery she died. I'd love to have her. If she got a chance to model you bet I'd let her!.I think the only ones who criticize are jealous and ought to shut up since I doubt they have down's or a kid with it.Or even the crap that goes with having one. Look for something else to rip apart! Leave this little girl and her family and job alone!Or maybe you all should just mind your own business.

Susan O.
Susan O.3 years ago

Bing Crosby - You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby

You must have been a beautiful baby
You must have been a wonderful child
When you were only starting to go to kindergarten
I bet you drove the little boys wild.
And when it came to winning blue ribboms
You must have shown the other kids how.
I can see the judges' eyes as they handed you the prize
You must have made the cutest bow.
You must've been a beautiful baby
Cause baby look at you now.

Does your mother realize
The stork delivered quite a prize
The day he left you on the family tree?
Does your dad appreciate
That you're merely supergreat
The miracle of any century?
If they don't just send them both to me.

You must have been a beautiful baby
You must have been a wonderful child.
When you were only starting to go to kindergarten
I bet you drove the little boys wild.
And when it came to winning blue ribboms
You must have shown the other kids how.
I can see the judges' eyes as they handed you the prize
You must have made the cutest bow.
You must've been a beautiful baby
Cause baby look at you now.

Latonya W.
Latonya W.3 years ago

She is sooo beautiful!!!

Mattie G.
Mattie G.3 years ago

Should be title "Girl WITH Down Syndrome..." not "Down Syndrome Girl..." People First Language PLEASE!!