Meet Valentina Guerrero. This little cutie-pie is 10 months old, and the new face of Spanish swimwear label Dolores Cortés. Valentina also has Down Syndrome. Amazingly, she's the first person with Down Syndrome condition to be cast in a major fashion designer's ad campaign, where she is currently on the cover of the brand's USA catalog.
The estimated incidence of Down Syndrome is between 1 in 1000 to 1 in 1100 live births worldwide, yet advertisers and TV networks - who have slowly making progress in reflecting ethnic diversity - have historically failed to similarly feature the differently-abled. But it seems that the tide may be turning. Glee features two characters with Down Syndrome, with Betty (played by teenage actress Lauren Potter) making a regular appearance.
Toddler Taya Kenny was signed to a mainstream child modelling agency after her mother was persuaded by relatives to submit her photos and has had interest from major childcare brands such as Mothercare and Early Learning Centre. "Taya is an incredibly photogenic, warm and smiley child, and that shines through in her photographs," says Alysia Lewis, owner of Urban Angels, the UK model agency that has added her to their books.
Chain stores are also coming on board. Six-year-old Ryan Langston (see gallery below) has appeared in ads for US brands Target and Nordstrom, an experience Ryan's parents described as a 'real confidence booster' for the young model.
What's special about these modelling gigs is that they're not part of a special awareness campaign for charity or a misguided PR stunt. As one father of a child with Down Syndrome remarked on his blog in regards to the Target advertisement,
"This wasn't a 'Special Clothing For Special People' catalog. There wasn't a call out somewhere on the page proudly proclaiming that 'Target's proud to feature a model with Down syndrome in this week's ad!' And they didn't even ask him to model a shirt with the phrase, 'We Aren't All Angels' printed on the front. In other words, they didn't make a big deal out of it. I like that."
In other words, they said so much by saying nothing at all. As for Valentina, her modelling career looks bright. "People with Down syndrome are just as beautiful and deserve the same opportunities," said Dolores Cortes in a statement. "I'm thrilled to have Valentina modeling for us."
See our gallery of beautiful models with Down Syndrome in the photo gallery above and watch this video: Ten things people with Down syndrome would like you to know.