Our diverse society is not just black and white
I’m not the sort of person who would normally chuckle in delight at a child’s be-sloganned t-shirt.
They’re generally nauseating endorsements of the parents’ lack of irony or self awareness, or weirdly sexualised. Many seem to reference boobs, and while boobs are funny and there’s comedy to be had in their dual function as funbags and milk containers, with babies maybe just stick to the milk stuff.
But this t-shirt – ‘Am I rockin’ my extra chromosome, or what?’ – made me chuckle. I saw it pop up on Facebook yesterday and it’s available in different designs at a bunch of websites.
It’s relentlessly positive, cheerful, and provides an excellent opportunity perhaps for other children and families to ask about Down Syndrome, to get to know a bit more about it.
One store, Cafepress, has a whole range - “a unique line of products designed to promote Down syndrome awareness and celebrate diversity and inclusion.”
Meanwhile, 10-month-old Valentina Guerrero became the first person with Down Syndrome to be cast in a major fashion campaign.
This is about where this piece was going to go back to talking about what’s appropriate for kids (t-shirts that make them feel proud) versus inappropriate (‘Porn Star in the Making’). But the idea that no major fashion label has ever before used a person with Down Syndrome has taken this column down a different track.
How narrow is the idea of diversity, when the fashion world considers itself diverse, if it has a couple of plus-size models who are still skinnier and hotter than the average person, and a ‘rainbow’ of skin tones?
Pretty narrow, is the answer.
Elle ‘The Body’ MacPherson disagrees. She seems to think we’ve got about as diverse as we can handle. Britain’s Mirror newspaper recently asked her if she’d consider a plus-size Next Top Model show. She said:
That’s like saying, ‘would you ever consider a six foot five jockey’. Um, I don’t know how well they’d ride a horse or how fast the horse would go, but it’s definitely possible.
But she says now we have ‘coloured’ models – and even some without boobs! - it’s clear we have attained diversity:
When I started working in America, if you were not blonde haired, blue eyed, 5 foot 8, that was it. Now we have girls that are five foot seven, six foot, coloured, red haired, afros, freckles, big breasts, no breasts. Listen, I’m 50 and I’m still working, so it’s not even ageist anymore.
Obviously models are there to sell aspiration along with clothes. The not-so-subconscious idea is that we frumpy boobless fanta pants types can shell out for the clothes and somehow get a step closer to being an Elle.
And fitting in the occasional person with a different number of chromosomes or (gasp!) someone who’s five foot six can seem, well, token.
But it would be nice if they remembered, now and then, that the audience they are preaching to is actually quite diverse.
There are even people with Down Syndrome out there. Lots of them. And they shop.
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