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  • Jodi Samuels

True Inclusion or Just an Illusion?

Sofía Jirau for Victoria’s Secret “Love Cloud” Campaign

Sofía Jirau is beautiful. She also has Down syndrome. She also has become the first model with Down syndrome to model for Victoria’s Secret: a brand that, after years of criticism for selling underwear on models that don’t look like most people, perfect and unattainable beauty standards.

credit: Victoria's Secret

The photo of Sofía that has been circulated in the media with the news of her VS hire is different from any other photo one finds of her; it is a blended and photoshopped photo in black and white. It’s beautiful — but most wouldn’t have guessed that her unique beauty has anything to do with Down syndrome, as those features have been contoured in a way that makes them hardly noticeable.

There is a debate within the world of Down syndrome and other genetic disorders regarding plastic surgery — something that has been offered to my own daughter Caila. Why not? For us, the decision not to have done it is because Caila’s features are unique to her and make her who she is.

But I digress. My real question is about inclusion: Are we really changing the face of beauty, or are we hiring someone with Down syndrome to “include” them while blending and camouflaging out their pronounced features, only to “tick” a box.

Yes, Typical models also have makeup and contouring, plastic surgery, lighting photoshop — all to create that image of “perfection” so in a way one could argue that this model is being treated as any other would.

If the mission is to include someone different and expand the definition of beauty, is Victoria’s Secret’s move an example true inclusion, or simply another “tick” in the box for Victoria’s Secret to themselves be included in this new trend?

High-end brands like Boss and Gucci, as well as high street brands like Adidas, Old Navy, and H&M have hired models with obvious physical traits of Down syndrome, photographed and filmed them beautifully, and are modeling true inclusion. It is true that Victoria’s Secret has taken major steps in the right direction with this hire (as well as those of plus-sized and pregnant models).

I’m asking: is this true inclusion, or just the illusion?

This article was first published on on February 21, 2022


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