Katie Driscoll wants you to make a video with a message to a favorite retailer saying you want everyone to feel valued in this country, regardless of ability, and post it to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Then you challenge someone else to do the same.
Hashtag #changingthefaceofbeauty and #theellenshow
Fairies are everywhere, their little wings hanging askew as they pose in front of a 100-year-old barn in a Palos Park backyard. But these are no ordinary fairies—some are in wheelchairs, others have Down syndrome, they’re every ethnicity and age. And in the midst of the fairy fray stands the person who brings the magic to the photoshoot—photographer Katie Driscoll.
Driscoll, a Palos Park mom of six children, is the force behind the Changing the Face of Beauty campaign, a grassroots project that aims to include children of all abilities in the media and advertising.
Driscoll’s mission began when her youngest child, Grace, was born with Down syndrome. After having five boys, Driscoll was excited to start buying all the adorable hats and dresses and girly items she’d missed out on with her boys. But it began to dawn on her as she looked through catalogs and online advertising that none of it contained a child with special needs.
She began working with Steve English, a Chicago dad of an adult son with special needs, who sells fair trade products and suggested Grace model some of his items. Once they got started, Driscoll and English decided they needed to find a way to get advertisers to include children of all different abilities in their catalogs, so they started Changing the Face of Beauty.
“As I got into it and started thinking about it, I was disappointed with the advertising community and the media. The more I met people with disabilities, I became more frustrated,” Driscoll says. “With them being the largest minority in the world, they’re the least represented.”
To get the campaign going, Driscoll began dressing Grace in clothing she bought off Etsy, taking a photo and then contacting the vendor to see if they’d be receptive to having Grace model their clothing. Late at night, after tucking her six kids into bed, Driscoll would be busy sending out letters to advertisers suggesting they include children with disabilities.
Meanwhile, Lisa Schuh in Downers Grove had decided her daughter Teagan, who has Down syndrome, would make a great model.
“From the beginning, when Teagan was born, I wanted the world to see her as I did,” Schuh says. “So it was always my mission to push her out there and have her be visible and have other parents understand the normalcy of having a kid with special needs.”
It helped that Teagan loved to ham it up for the camera. When Schuh contacted a modeling agency in Hinsdale, they recommended Teagan, 9, have some modeling shots taken by Driscoll and they would see what happened.
Within a week, Teagan landed her first gig modeling for a Walgreens ad. She was also one of the fairies in the recent photoshoot for Mighty Acorn, which featured nine vendors from around the country who came together to create an inclusive advertising campaign.
Mustard Pie Clothing and Jak and Peppar clothing, both local clothing lines designed and owned by Shannon Rihm, were part of the Mighty Acorn photoshoot.
“Katie had posted a picture of a little girl with Down syndrome on our page wearing one of our outfits,” Rihm says. “So she contacted me and asked me if we wanted to contribute some clothes, which we definitely wanted to do.”
“It’s close to my heart,” says Rihm, who has several family members with special needs. “We like to see all types of kids shine and feel good in the clothes they’re wearing.”
Now Driscoll has decided to push her campaign even further. Recently she bought clothing from JC Penney and re-created one of their ads with Grace and some other kids with and without disabilities. She created a video to show that it doesn’t take that much to include children with differences.
“They were overwhelmed by the video and photos so they put together a look book. They took pics of my kids and their friends … and did a call out to moms of kids of all abilities, so parents from all over the country were sending in pictures,” Driscoll says. “They compiled those and created this look book with all their customers. That project changed everything for me. It showed me anything is possible if you work hard enough and creatively enough.”
Across the country, people are taking note of Driscoll’s Changing the Face of Beauty campaign. She and Grace traveled to New York to appear on the Today show. She has been featured in People magazine, the Huffington Post and many other major media outlets.
That’s not enough for Driscoll, who in addition to Changing the Face of Beauty, homeschools three of her six kids and works as a freelance photographer. She recently began collaborating with some of her fellow bloggers and they’ve decided it’s time to reach out to the big box retailers. They were encouraged when they saw that Gap recently included a child in a wheelchair in one of its catalogs.
“We hope to start a campaign for big box retailers to jump on board. Gap did it,” Driscoll says. “We’re pushing for 10 big retailers for 2015.”
As it grows, Driscoll says the project has become so much bigger than just her. “People believe in it and once they know about it, they realize the importance.
“We’ve gotta go to the next level and for me, our imagery, our media, is the biggest way. We see there what we believe is important and make conscious decisions about what we eat, wear and do from those images,” Driscoll says. “The more children with disabilities are included, the more our children are exposed.”
Liz DeCarlo is the former senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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