By Ellen Seidman
Valentina Guerrero, a 10-month old from Miami who has Down syndrome, is the new face of Dolores Cortés DC kids' swimwear line. The little girl's story has been sweeping the web since Friday, when Cortés strolled down the catwalk of her fashion show holding Valentina in her arms. The little girl is also on the cover of the company's new catalog.
This is all major news, because Valentina is said to be the first child with Down syndrome (and probably any disabilities) chosen to be the face of a major fashion company. Which actually shouldn't be news, given that she has an exceptionally adorable face. It's no surprise that mom Cecilia Elizalde--a TV host and producer--has been flooded with calls from agents.
Here's what Cecilia had to say when I got her on the phone:
So, were you surprised by the reaction to Valentina's modeling gig?
"Well, I did think this could be big, but I didn't know it would spread across the world, to countries whose languages I don't even know! Friends from Brazil, Spain and everywhere have been sending stories about Valentina."
I know, as the parent of a child with special needs, that sometimes people do not get how awesome he is. They look at him and see his disabilities, not his abilities. What's been your experience with Valentina?
"She's so little, so we haven't encountered anything that I can think of. We raise her like any child! She's our first, and we just do what we would do with any child-go out with friends, to dinner, wherever. For everyone around us, life with her is the norm."
How do you think more kid models with Down syndrome and other special needs could be generally good for our kids?
"I think the main thing is, it generates inclusion. When you see kids with special needs on ads and on the web, it becomes the norm. You know about them, you're educated, you're no longer afraid. Then you start including them and you see it as a natural part of your life. Kids with disabilities used to be hidden. We've come a long way, but there's still a long way to go. I would love to see a show on TV with kids who have Down syndrome, like a cartoon! There are so many things we can still do as a society. We are all different--and that's what we should celebrate."
Some skeptics say Valentina was chosen by Dolores Cortés because the company wanted to get attention for themselves. What would you like to say to these people?
"Everybody has their own perspective on life. That's precisely one of the first lessons I learned with Valentina: Everything depends on how you look at it. Focus on the positive, and that will become your reality! Also, as a mom, I'm the first one to make sure my daughter is not exploited. You have to meet Dolores and her team to realize how amazing they are, and that they would not do this for her benefit. Dolores has featured other children with Down syndrome in her fashion shows, a couple of years ago. She's done a fashion show to benefit breast cancer, too. She's proactive about helping others."
Some models are known for making demands at shoots--you know, champagne, green M&Ms. Did Valentina make any demands?
"She was unbelievable! She surprised us. We shot in ninety-degree weather on Fisher Island, for two hours straight. She was just smiling. You can't wear a diaper on swimsuit photo shoots, and she didn't even pee!"
What's Valentina's favorite thing to do when she's not modeling, aside from napping?
"She loves the water and she's very social. Her latest thing is clapping. Whenever she thinks something is good or she did well or she's happy to see someone, she claps. If Daddy comes in, she claps!"
This article first appeared in Parents magazine.