Su­per model

My daugh­ter is chang­ing per­cep­tions of dis­abil­ity

Chat - - Come On In! - By Becky Meade, 63, from Iowa, USA

Through­out the first two years of our daugh­ter Katie’s life, we thought we were go­ing to lose her mul­ti­ple times.

She had the tough­est start.

At just 5 months old, she had three open-heart surg­eries be­cause she had a hole in the heart.

Dur­ing it, her heart stopped beat­ing three times.

She spent her first few years in and out of hospi­tal, was tube-fed.

But Katie’s al­ways been a fighter.

At 2½, her health started to im­prove, and she was fi­nally dis­charged. ‘Take her home, love her and treat her like your other girls,’ the doc­tor said. From then on, Katie, now 33, has never let her dis­abil­ity hold her back. You see, she has Down’s syn­drome, a ge­netic con­di­tion that causes some learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and cer­tain phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics. De­ter­mined not to se­gre­gate Katie, my hus­band Tom, 65, and I tried to open the door to op­por­tu­ni­ties. Katie’s al­ways done ev­ery­thing her sis­ters Christy, now 36, and Kelly, 31, have done. Like them, Katie played the pi­ano, took part in sport, had swim­ming lessons. She even be­came a gold medal­list in gym­nas­tics at the Spe­cial Olympics in 1999. Katie also went to the same main­stream school as her sis­ters. So­cia­ble, she made heaps of friends. But it wasn’t al­ways easy. Some­times she’d come home from school in tears. ‘Mum, they threw stones at me,’ she’d wail. Cruel kids stuck gum in her hair, called her names. But Katie found the strength to over­come it. Re­fus­ing to let the bul­lies beat her, af­ter leav­ing school she got a full-time ad­min job at a trea­surer’s of­fice. And, in 2005, Katie was in­vited to be­come an am­bas­sador for Best Bud­dies, an in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion of­fer­ing vol­un­teer­ing, friend­ships, em­ploy­ment and lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

She spoke at con­fer­ences in front of thou­sands, in­spired peo­ple from across the globe.

Then, in June 2015, she got a phone call…

‘Katie, we’d like you to be in­volved with our brand,’ Kenny Kahn, the CEO of Beauty & Pin­ups, a lux­ury hair and make-up brand, told her.

‘Yes!’ Katie shrieked

Cruel kids stuck gum in her hair, called her names

af­ter­wards, jump­ing for joy.

He’d heard about the work Katie had done with Best Bud­dies.

And, af­ter meet­ing her a few times, Kenny had a pro­posal for Katie.

‘We want you to be the face of our new hair-mask prod­uct,’ he an­nounced. Wow! ‘We named it Fear­less, and there’s no­body as fear­less as Katie,’ Kenny told me later.

‘I’m wor­ried,’ I ad­mit­ted to Tom. ‘They’re putting my girl out into the big, scary world.’

But once I’d met the Beauty & Pin­ups team, it put my mind at ease. They were won­der­ful.

‘They have Katie’s best in­ter­ests at heart,’ I told Tom, re­as­sured.

I was al­ways video­ing my girls danc­ing around, try­ing on pretty dresses, blow­ing me kisses. So Katie was a nat­u­ral in front of the cam­era.

Now she’d landed her­self a proper mod­el­ling job.

A few weeks later, a photographer and stylist were flown in from LA.

They ar­rived at our house for the shoot.

‘This is so ex­cit­ing,’ I said, giv­ing Katie a mas­sive hug.

‘I feel like a true model,’ Katie beamed, the cam­era flash­ing away. ‘You are!’ the team told her. The pic­tures looked amaz­ing. I’ve never been prouder.

Katie was prov­ing you don’t have to be a cer­tain shape, size, race or abil­ity to be a model. She broke all the bound­aries. She’s the first-ever model with Down’s syn­drome to be the face of a beauty brand.

I have to do a dou­ble-take when I see her face in the su­per­mar­ket!

Now the sky’s the limit for Katie. Since her shoot, she’s been on TV in Aus­tralia, and has been in umpteen mag­a­zines and pa­pers.

She was even flown to New York for one in­ter­view.

And, last Septem­ber, fash­ion and beauty web­site Re­fin­ery29 launched their Redefin­ing Beauty cam­paign, with Katie as one of the faces.

When Katie was born, Tom and I had no ex­pe­ri­ence of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. It was daunt­ing. I hope Katie’s story will help other par­ents. I want to show ev­ery­one there are no lim­its to what peo­ple with a dis­abil­ity can achieve.

We’ve al­ways known Katie’s beau­ti­ful in­side and out.

Now the whole world knows it.

She was a nat­u­ral in front of the cam­era

Fam­ily sup­port We tried to give our girl op­por­tu­ni­ties

Katie didn’t have an easy start

Get­ting ready for the shoot (above)

Break­ing the bound­aries

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