Here we are once again. Back to school time is vastly approaching and we are all thinking about what we need to buy to ensure our kids have a smooth transition out of flip flops and swimming suits into their new school jeans and tennis shoes. It was always an exciting and nerve wrecking time for me as a kid growing up. I loved to shop with my Mom. It was generally a time when it was just her and I. She would wait patiently while I picked out my favorite styles after circling the catalogs from front to back with my wish list. I wasn’t the “coolest” kid in the room and school didn’t necessarily come easy for me but I always felt confident walking into school on that first day. I looked forward to that new bag and shoes every year. My mom always delivered. Even if my choice was purple suede Kangaroo tennis shoes, which happened to be one of my favorites.
As I wrap my mind around another school year I can not help but ask myself, where in the world are the pictures of kids who might be just be a little more uneasy about returning. The kids who might have to walk into school on that first Monday using a walker or a wheel chair. Better yet where are the pictures of kids who have intellectual disabilities like my daughter? They are no where. Believe me I have been looking. I am not sure what has happened here but I will tell you that I am more anxious about this year then I have ever been in the past. My daughter is 5 and even though I am not sending her back to a school building like most I worry about the way people perceive her.
Over the summer I have witnessed kids looking at her as though she is different. Grabbing another seat because sitting next to my girl was not what they had in mind. I have seen her try and join into games and kids ignoring her efforts. I honestly see a wider gap in her and her peers then I ever have in previous years. As a Mom I have a pit in my stomach even typing these words. So many times I wanted to text or call friends who might possibly be in the same boat and ask them if they are seeing the same things. What I realized at 5 years into this journey my daughter is different. She is. For some of you, you might be reading this and scratching your head like, really? You have known and raised your daughter for the past 5 years and you are just now realizing this. The fact is I am. When my girl was born my blinders were on. No one was going to tell she wouldn’t or couldn’t because I would ensure that she would. My daughter didn’t need special schools or sports teams because she would defeat the odds. My expectations have not changed for her but reality has. My girl does need extra’s to make things that any other 5 year old child can do obtainable to her. She is just starting to learn to read where others are smoothly reading short stories. She is still working on mastering the art of potty training where others her age have been out of diapers for 2 years. Her speech is strained and hard to understand where other children are telling their parents what they want and when they want it like a best selling author.
What I want to say is my daughter has her own struggles, just like any other child you might say. But she actually has bigger struggles. She can’t ask smoothly and confidently if she can play because the child she is asking might not understand and that makes her nervous. She doesn’t completely understand the implications of not following all the rules of the game so that makes it difficult to play with her. She is different and that unfortunately makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
While all these things break my heart into a million little pieces I know there is no time to sit back and ignore the widening gap between her and her friends. It is a reminder that we have to dig in, work harder and push her forward quickly and as efficiently as possible. It is the only right answer. So therapy and education go through summers and creep into time we should be traveling to the city, water parks and vacations giving us less time to really sit back and take those summer moments in. It is all hard. It is hard for me, for my daughter and for her siblings but it is necessary. So as I prepare my mind to walk back into another school year I look at catalogs and online marketing campaigns just like any other Mom and I once again don’t see my daughter. I can’t figure out how kids like my own girl work 365 days to keep up with their peers yet they are still not valuable enough to be seen in advertising that is directly marketed at their peer groups.
I can not understand how another year is passing and major retailers are ignoring the suggestions from parents, grandparents, siblings and Changing the Face of Beauty. How can my daughter be left out again?
Last year I created a Back to School campaign of my own and it was so well received it landed us spots on many popular news sites across the internet. Changing the Face of Beauty was flooded with interview requests asking how I came to realize this was an issue. Gap put out a casting call around the same time asking for kids to submit their pictures for a spot on a store window or in their marketing publications and they included a beautiful girl in a wheelchair. All these things were promising. Yet some how we are in a similar place this years as we were last year. Gap never cast one child with a difference and none of the major retailers listened. None of them thought my girl was valuable enough to represent the huge community she was born into.
What I am proud of is our 100+ “Proud Participating Companies” of 2015. These companies committed to Changing the Face of Beauty that they would represent people regardless of their abilities in their advertising and have done a fantastic job at it. I am confident that if you visited their sites they would ensure you would see someone like my daughter and that is what Changing the Face of Beauty is about. That is why, when given the opportunity to partner with Livie and Luca shoes I jumped at the opportunity. They not only wanted to make sure that students of all abilities felt represented in their Back to School campaign but they wanted to commit to helping to raise the funds so that we can start educating the future to do the same in High Schools and marketing departments across the nation.
This is an easy fix. When planning a marketing plan geared toward kids, use kids. Use kids that will be entering all classrooms. It is not ok to exclude a whole department of children and that must stop. Children who have disabilities should not have to go yet another year under represented and Livie and Luca shows us all exactly how easy it is to make sure children of all abilities are seen.
We have choices. All of us. We can support companies who support our children’s future by ensuring they are not invisible. The fire in my stomach is burning stronger then ever. We will change the advertising landscape. Together.
What can you do today?
Make sure your student is seen this back to school season by posting a picture on social media and hash tagging #imgoingbacktoschooltoo
Lets remind retailers that we are proud of our students regardless of their ability.
AND consider shopping the companies that support what you believe in. I sure will.