Last week, another adorable kids with Down’s Syndrome popped up in commercial media. This time in a much lauded position as the cover model for Dolores Cortes Swimwear.
While this isn’t like being on the cover of Vogue, it is still pretty remarkable and, as such, has drawn a lot of attention and some fire.
The most critical review of the move by the Spanish designer is from S.E. Smith at XOJane. Smith accuses Cortes of “[making] a big point of the telling, issuing press releases,walking the runway with Valentina, and generally making sure everyone knows how progressive she is for picking a disabled model as the face of her swimwear campaign.”
And with the amount of attention being paid to Cortes by both the fashion bloggers and larger media outlets, it is easy to see how one may draw that conclusion. With stories by Fashionista, HuffPo, MSNBC, New York Daily News, the Daily Mail, Fox News, Jezebel and many more, Cortes is on her way to being a household name in the US. Not bad for a swimsuit designer who is just debuting a line on this side of the Atlantic.
To her credit, Cortes is donating 10% of the profits from her US kids line to the Down Syndrome Association of Miama (Valentina is a Miami native). She also had this to say about hiring Valentina to be the face of DC Kids 13 in Adweek: “People with Down syndrome are just as beautiful and deserve the same opportunities. I’m thrilled to have Valentina modeling for us.”
While I am on the fence about whether or not this highly publicized inclusion of a PWID is exploitative or not.
However, I do agree with S.E. Smith on one point:
There’s a lot of media going gaga over this right now and lots of gooey-eyed commentary on how nice it all is, and 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. Models who face significant social and cultural barriers that make it hard to establish and maintain careers…[Models with Down’s] represent the least threatening form of disability, that which looks most like harmless nondisabled bodies, instead of challenging the viewer with braces or canes, visible amputations or obvious variances in facial and physical structure. The curves of scoliosis and the scars of self-harm are not visible on disabled models, because these things are scary. The narrow confines of beauty do not have room for disability, and until that changes, I can’t throw my cap up in the air with joy every time a company is praised for casting a cute little white kid in a modeling campaign.
Bring on the models in wheelchairs, with crutches, with advanced cerebral palsy.