(photo of Valentina Guerrero, a ten month old girl with down syndrome, modelling a pink bathing suit)
We were in a line up in a grocery store when I saw it. I stopped writing this blog for over an hour to search for what I'd seen. I couldn't find it with any certainty. It was one of those magazines that they have for you to browse and hopefully buy while waiting to pay. Not one of the kind that tells weird stories about Aliens Addicted to Arrowroot Cookies. The kind that has endless information about celebrities co-mingled with other newsy kind of stories. I noticed, because my eyes were drawn to it by an irresistible force, the bottom corner of a cover, the headline above a picture Down Syndrome Baby Model. The photo above, I believe is the little girl who was at the center of the story in the magazine.
Even though I'm not completely convinced that 'people first' language is always the right thing to do. I don't, for example, mind being referred to as a disabled guy, because, I suppose, I am. Like I don't expect people to say, 'Dave is a person who is gay,' so why should I insist that my disability be put behind my personhood - aren't both obvious. All this was running through my head, I was trying to figure out what language should have be used in the headline, what response there should be to the headline, should concern be expressed. All this mixed up and muddled inside of me, so much so that I didn't notice a slim arm reach past me to take the magazine off the shelf.
Two women, maybe in their early twenties, were exclaiming about how beautiful the baby was. They flipped through the magazine to see the other pictures. They waxed poetic about the baby's smile and how beautiful she looked in this picture or that. I listened to their chat. They weren't talking about the political importance of 'framing' the headline, they were talking, instead, about the pictures ... in fact the picture framed their conversation. They said a few things about being surprised at her beauty and how well loved she looked. As they talked the baby, her existance, her pictures, her value, entered into their words.
Suddenly I didn't care about the headline.
I cared about the work this little beauty, this little revolutionary, who takes her place, and because she does, makes change - no matter how you word it.
Political correctness and person first language is important as an educator, advocate and family member of a person with a disability. I firmly believe words matter, including their sequence in a describing phrase or sentence.
But, you are right....we get so caught up at times in situations like this where the organic and often positive perceptive nature of humans comes out and they gush about the person vs. the disability. It is times like these when you just stop, think and thank the world for realizing (in this situation) beauty for beauty's sake.
Now, of course the jaded, cynical and father part of me is thinking..."How long before this little girl Valentina Guerrero falls victim to the modeling industry and gets an eating disorder or some ghastly by-product of being a model??!!!"
Goodness, I feel tormented sometimes. I too would be all in a snit about the headline and if not for those two 20 something women not even referring to the darn headline, I am sure I would have been in your shoes .
This was a lovely entry, Dave!! Thank you so much
Ellen Seidmen blogged about this beautiful baby and her modelling career over athttp://www.lovethatmax.com/2012/07/a-baby-with-down-syndrome-is-swimsuit.html. Valentina has been causing more controversy than she should (I believe!)
Dave, I just love your open hearted thought process and destination. As one who is awfully self conscious at times about saying the wrong thing or the right thing in the wrong way,I appreciate the search for "heart."
I completely agree with John R. that words matter greatly and none of what I say is intended to minimize a word of what he said. But having been the "word police" at work, I no longer focus on it quite as much because I learned that some people say all of the right things, sometimes humourously so, while simply creating another label, because their hearts don't get the point. Heart surgery is at least as much needed as a language implant! :)
You are a little behind the times here :) The world of Mommy bloggers of children with special needs have been celebrating this little girls and many of the other models we are now seeing from stores such as Target here in the states. It's even better when we see these pictures and there is not mention of DS or any other special need. It would be nice to see more kids with wheelchairs or obviously having CP, but let's face it modeling is a rarified world. However, seeing as how the stats are now saying that at least 90% of children diagnosed in utero with Down Syndrome are being aborted, perhaps seeing these beautiful faces will persuade more parents and medical personnel that these children, like all children are people entitled to life.
Aack!! Sorry for the typos! I was excited :)
John R. here's a friendly but deeply dissenting voice from a disabled person; I do not like person-first language one bit. My personhood should be obvious and doesn't need reinforcing from outside. But while I seem to be a minority on this, as in so many other things ( :) ), that's all right -- there's room for all, and informed good intentions count for a lot.
And concerning the baby, all I can muster is "Awwwwwww...." She's adorable! No wonder she was picked to model, what a cutie bug. I'm glad she's out there.
Bruder Toys Bworld Construction Site Flash Mob Dance
Another awesome model, this little guy has a great day in the construction world!
I've had this picture posted on my desk at work since the day the story was out! I'm all for pc'ness but I got a strong sense that this wasn't a token modeling contract, that the refernce to her was far secondary to her absolute beauty!
Such a beautiful little girl!!
To add to the conversation that we all agree this really isn't about... Count me in the camp of those who aren't fans of person-first language. I actually feel it conflicts with the idea of disability pride. I don't feel like my disability is shameful or that it takes away from my humanity, so why should I bury it in awkward syntax? I can't imagine describing someone as a person who is gay, a person with black skin, a person from Mexio, a person who is Muslim, etc, etc. In Enlish, we put adjectives before nouns. You can describe me as a short woman, a beautiful woman, or a disabled woman, and I would find them equally correct, and in no way a threat to my personhood. I'm in favor of language that's respectful, absolutely. I just wish that PC language didn't so often result in people trying way too hard, and sounding like they're anything but comfortable with my disability.
Yeah, I'm not a fan of person first language either. People who talk about 'people with autism' often seem to think it's some sort of cage around us instead of our way of thinking and feeling.
But more importantly, Valentina is soo cute!
As someone, who has been training direct support workers in person centred thinking, I think that putting people first is important, at least initially. Unfortunately many of the support workers I have met through training easily get caught up thinking that a person IS their disability and that they know all there is to know about a person, if they know the person's "label". People's disability can then be used as a reason why they shouldn't have all the same opportunities,which other people in our society have. I think it is healthy to have a reminder in the language to remind us, that regardless of the disability a person has they are indeed and first and foremost a real person.
Rikke, I find it confusing that you say you train people in 'person centered thinking' and yet when people with disabilities speak about their opinion about person first language you completely discount what's being said. Isn't that exactly the opposite of what you should be training?
Sitting here with Terry Litterst, in Paradise... talking about you!
You are an angel... blessings Corinne
In St Thomas packing up my Dad's condo and discussing you, showing your blog to a dear friend...please come back next Spring to speak at Hogan again....we miss you Terry
Karen - you make a very good point, thanks for pointing out the flaw in my thinking. I certainly didn't mean to discount anyone's opinion, especially about their own lived experiences.
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