I first heard about Changing the Face of Beauty (CTFOB) a couple of years ago. It wasn’t too long after I had attended the Canadian Down Syndrome Society Conference in Vancouver, BC where I had listened to Gail Williamson speak. Gail is mother to Blair, who has appeared in many television shows including CSI. She spoke of how when Blair was small he had asked whether he would “grow out” of Down syndrome. It was natural assumption given that Blair never saw pictures of people with Down syndrome in the media or advertising. As a talent agent in Los Angeles, Gail was determined to change this. So she did and began adding individuals with disabilities to her roster.
I have always been open to the idea of my children being in advertising or acting as I, myself was a child actor. I didn’t continue with the occupation too long (as it wasn’t really my passion) but it did pay for some of my college tuition, was a lot of fun and a great experience that developed my confidence, poise and people skills as a pre-teen. Consequently, when Peekaboo Beans approached me about having Ella participate in one of their photo shoots, I jumped at the opportunity. Ella loved it! She was a natural and the camera loved her.
Peekaboo Beans is a forerunner however, and not many companies can wrap their corporate heads around the idea of using less than perfect models to promote their products but as Katie Driscoll, the founder of CTFOB says, companies need to recognize individuals with disabilities as an untapped market. After all, just because a person has a disability doesn’t mean that they don’t buy clothes, go to the movies or eat at restaurants.
On a personal level, however, and as a mother, it goes beyond recognizing these individuals as consumers. The lack of individuals with disabilities in the media promotes the idea that these individuals are undesirable and not beautiful. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want Ella to know that she is beautiful. I want Ella to know that even though she has a visible disability it does not mean that she is not worthy to be in advertising, is less attractive or lives a lesser life.
This past Saturday, I had the privilege of seeing months of planning climax in Canada’s first Changing the Face of Beauty headshot clinic. This fundraiser for CTFOB involves providing head shots for twenty individuals with various disabilities in exchange for a donation. The donated money then goes to educating the media as well as those planning on going into marketing, promoting models and actors with disabilities and creating a stock image database (something I do through my own photography work as well). In our case, the hours of planning, the hours of shooting and editing photography, who included myself as well as my friend Melissa, the venue and many other aspects of the day were all donated so that every penny could go towards the work of the organization.
That being said, the event itself was so much more than just snapping a few photos. It was a coming together of community. Many of the families who came out to the event, we had only known through Facebook as part of our amazingly supportive online Down syndrome community. Over the years we have watched many of the children grow but only through photographs shared with pride online. As a result it was so incredibly special to finally meet them in person. Then, to watch them charm the camera was inspiring because the truth is, is that these individuals ARE beautiful – inside and out. They have joy in their eyes and love in their hearts.
I would like to give a huge shout out to Maria and Melissa – you were such a great team to work with. Thank you to The Wheelbarrow Gardener for providing such a lovely space. Thank you to Peekaboo Beans for outfitting our models, SPUD for providing healthy snacks, David’s tea for providing cups of comfort, Jimmy, for capturing our day, and Mastermind toys for providing loot bags for our participants. Finally, thank you to everyone who came out and are helping change the face of beauty in Canada.