Monday, November 11, 2013

Does this child seem exploited to you?


This is Holly Greenlow, 7, a new model for the British Boden online catalog. According to her profile on the site, the funniest person she knows is her mom. If she ruled the world, she would play all the time.

The silliest thing she's ever done, she said, was take a bath with clothes on. 

Holly has cerebral palsy. Which shouldn't be the reason she's headline material but is, given that children with disabilities are still relatively rare in ads (although it's happening a lot more than it used to). Holly's mom took her to an open casting call Boden held earlier this year. 

Over in the comments section of Daily Mail's article about Holly, most of the comments were of the "What a beautiful little girl!" variety. Someone wrote, "Sorry, but I'm profoundly uneasy with all this, since it looks to me to be exploitative of people's complex mixture of guilt and sentimentality vis-a-vis the disabled. I'm all too aware of the amorality of the advertising industry in these areas, alas. These guys stop at nothing."

I can see why cynics would think that. There is still a huge "awww" factor for kids with CP and other special needs. Thing is, companies regularly tout products by hiring gorgeous kids, so featuring a gorgeous child with CP in an ad should be no more outrageous than featuring any child. By hiring Holly, I'd say they are helping to bust stereotypes of kids with CP.

More telling is the way newspaper articles describe her: She's "brave" because she has cerebral palsy. She stars in the new campaign "despite being able to walk or talk." Another paper's headline proclaimed "Cerebral palsy sufferer lands Boden campaign." Said one commenter, "Does she look like she's suffering?"

Holly is a beautiful girl who happens to have CP.

End of story. A great beginning for Holly!



Images: All photos of Holly Greenlow for Mini Boden by Geoff Robinson appear in the catalog

21 comments:

  1. We all have to continue to speak out when we see the word suffer next to CP, Autism or Down Syndrome. It mostly comes from the media and it's our job to let them know that those words have no business being put together. It's outdated and demeaning. Yes, you can suffer from cancer, but you never see a journalist write that she suffers from cancer. Holly is is a beautiful child who happens to have CP. That's the message we have to push.

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    1. Thank you Hannah. It is tiring to see the media use outdated dangerous words even though they shouldn't. Shame on them. It is appalling ignorance from so labelled educated adults.

      Sophia Lewis

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  2. Ellen....
    First off, Holly is a Beautifully Unique little girl!! Does she have crystal-clear blue eyes? I love cerebral palsy children!! ;)
    As for the word "suffer"? I do not like it, either. Several years ago, this Beautifully Unique boy--who had Down syndrome--was accidentally killed by a truck. Tragic story. But. Furthermore tragic? The radio newscasters saying that this boy "suffered" from Down syndrome. Really?! My Mom then said this. "Does my son 'suffer' from Down syndrome? Ask him. He'd say he's pretty happy.". Because. He is!! ;-D
    These were radio journalists. I am a writer. Unpublished. But a writer all the same. I never attended college for any sort of journalism degree. They did. Yet, I do spend an inordinate amount of time describing people, places, things, locations, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I would have phrased it much differently!! {He HAD Down syndrome. He LIVED WITH Down syndrome.} These college-education newscasters could have come up with some other way of describing him.... Especially in the wake of his tragic death.
    --Raelyn

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  3. I don't like the use of the word "suffer" to describe people with special needs. It's like saying that I suffer from being in band.

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  4. Yes, a company will jump on the bandwagon for good PR. But the only way to get people with special needs into the ads is to put them into the ads! It's a step forward.

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  5. I think there is something exploitative about using children in the advertising industry in general, but as long as it is going to continue, I think it is best for the advertising industry to be representative of the actual population, which means including children of different genders, weights, heights, skin colours, hair colours, and abilities.

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  6. Shes adorable! And such a smile...! Definitely not a child who's "suffering".

    Also, I'm totally lusting after the tights she's modeling. Too bad it's a kids catalog or those would be an my Christmas list. One can never have too many pairs of tights. ;)

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  7. When advertisers first began including people of color it was also viewed as driven by greed, and as being exploitative. Now we hardly notice it. Let's assume this will take the same path - so that we merely view it as an ad that shows members of our community.

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  8. Thanks for sharing Ellen. My husband and I explored modeling for our young son (he was not even a year old) because people said he was a beautiful child. We agreed (big bias!) and while I wasn't sure how I felt about the experience, I thought we could at least explore it. He didn't make it past the first round of cuts, but we were invited to at least be considered and that was that. It was also before he was diagnosed with CP. I am also uncomfortable with how people talk about kids with disabilities. They are kids. If we are going to say it is exploitation, then it is exploitation of all children. I don't think it is, but am open to listening to the argument if it is applied to all children. She is not being especially exploited because she has a disability. If anything, I too am encouraged that children with disabilities are being included and will be really happy when this is not an isolated thing, or even a thing of note. She is just another kid who is a model in a kid's catalogue. Yeah, my son has his own challenges from not being able to walk and talk, but he is hardly suffering. That is the language I get my back up about. Don't pity my son or feel bad for him. Just include him. As a kid because that is exactly what he is.

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  9. Ellen
    The short answer is no personally I don't think it's exploitation. Someone alluded to the fact all kids are exploited, we can debate that another time. She looks like she wants to be there and is enjoying it, so it's fine by me! We can 't always be bothered by these times of things. If anything it promotess Cerebral Palsy Awareness

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  10. Yes, the word "suffering" is used often in this context, and is almost more offensive to me than other more derogatory terms. I am an adult with CP, who has been in general education, completed 2 college degrees, and works a full time job as a public librarian, where I also have supervisory responsibility. There have been plenty of times when life was (and is) harder for me than I would like, but I have never suffered. I have been blessed and entrusted with much more than I deserve. If anything, my disability has opened the door for opportunities that I wouldn't have otherwise.

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  11. I think all child models, special needs or not, are exploited. The bigger problem is that children are treated like commodities, and that's especially problematic for children with special needs.

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  12. No, I am really not a fan of modeling but it seems to be a nice company

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    1. annoying thing published itself. anyway continuing from above, with good intentions. Plus Holly seems to be enjoying it. I love the fact the you can kinda tell she has CP(from her hands) but it does not at all draw more attention to the disability than the clothes.

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  13. I am surprised at the comments I receive from others. Now that she has her AFO s her CP is more visible. I hear things such as "That's too bad because she is so cute." I don't know what offends me more the insinuation that cute kids usually don't have CP or Charlie is less adorable because she has CP. I'll chalk this controversy, much like the comments, to ignorance. On another note, Yay Holly's mom!

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  14. I find it extremely offensive when someone says "suffers with" or "stricken with" There are so many beautiful children out there that happen to have disabilities and it's so refreshing to see more and more people with disabilities featured in advertising. Does anyone else remember many years ago that Toys-R-Us often had kids with walkers, braces and wheelchairs in their ads? They even had a special "accessible" section of toys that were special needs friendly.

    As a photographer who specializes in working with families with disabilities, I have gotten "hate mail" from people upset that I would post images of such children. I have also gotten comments like "He/She is still beautiful" like, because they have a disability, it's expected that they would not be beautiful!

    Holly is not being exploited any more than any other child who is used in advertising!

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    1. I get the comment all the time, after telling people what's wrong (aside from my crutches, at a glance I look healthy), "Well, you look *fabulous*!" First off, I find this offensive because it's condensending. I have a bleeping mirror, I know I'm average in the looks department. Going on like I'm a super model just makes 'you' look stupid. There are other replies to that story. Secondly, I wasn't aware being sick and disabled would mean I'd need to look like garbage all the time.

      I'm routinely amazed by the things people say. I often wonder if they can hear themselves.

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    2. Personally, I wish people would stop putting their disorders/disabilities first and foremost. I have one, and it just infuriates me that people don't think that we can fit in with everyone else, that everyone else has to be constantly reminded or that they're only in the public eye because of it. I personally want to be seen for my qualities and my abilities, not something I never asked to deal with.

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  15. She is not being exploited i hate that every time someone who is differently-abled is put front and center it's called exploitation

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  16. The condition is separate from the person yet is part of the person. By this I mean that we should see her person-ness first, and the fact that she has CP is just a part of that person. Just like any other kid, she probably does things that make her parents proud, and she probably does things that tick her parents off... Again, just like any other kid! She is lucky to land the modeling gig though... And I think that it does serve to prove my point, that a kid with CP (or any disability) is just like any other kid!

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    1. Thank you, Rick! I've encountered parents who think that it's a license for them to get away with some things, and that's personally wrong. Is it really wrong to treat a kid like anyone else would?

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Thanks for sharing!