When I received the prenatal diagnosis that my baby had Down syndrome, my world came to a skidding halt. My mother wisely let me cry for about 20 minutes, then asked me what had changed. I remember telling her everything had changed. Then she said the words that would set the stage for how my daughter would be raised. My mom said, “Your baby might have a disability, but she will only be disabled if you make her that way."
I tell this story to explain to strangers who ask how my daughter became an international sensation as one of Wet Seal's new models — that this was no accident. Karrie knows she can achieve her dreams, and that's exactly what she did. In fact, she teaches me that daily.
"I love my tummy," Karrie says when she looks at herself in the mirror and pats her belly. She has terrific self-esteem and feels good about her body. Many children with Down syndrome have soft muscle mass, which can lead to shopping in the plus size section, which Karrie loves to do. It was at Wet Seal where she really fell in love with clothes that made her fall even more in love with her body.
Only a few weeks ago — on August 12, I put a picture of Karrie on her first day of her junior year of high school on social media. I came home to quite a few Facebook friends who also have daughters with Down syndrome who were asking where I buy Karrie’s clothes that were well-fitting yet stylish.
I told them all that we shop at Wet Seal and that Karrie wanted to be a model for them. A Facebook page went up the next afternoon, intending to catch the attention of Wet Seal. And did we ever!
Wet Seal challenged Karrie to get 10,000 “likes” on that Wednesday by Friday — she was over 11,000 before noon on Thursday!
A lot of big brands may talk about diversity and inclusion, but when my daughter hit 10,000 Facebook likes, Wet Seal told me that they were going to fly me and my daughter to California to do a professional modeling shoot. I don't think I've ever seen my daughter so excited. I heard some people tell me not to encourage her to do things that "she might not be able to do," but to me, Karrie represents how we don't need to place limits on ourselves.
"You're lucky," I've heard people say about my daughter. I actually don't think luck has anything to do with it. Karrie has always worked incredibly hard to be where she is, from her language skills to her status on the honor roll to being recognized for her volunteerism to this, her newest effort as a model! My daughter is not lucky. She is determined.
At 9 years old, Karrie received an additional diagnosis of autism. We talk about what is going on, and Karrie knows she has these diagnoses and how this can impact her trying to do things. She knows that sometimes, even though she tries very hard, it might take her longer to accomplish what she sets out to do. But she does keep trying. Karrie is not defined by her diagnoses. She is simply who she is.
Who says she can or can't do anything? To me, that's the kind of person she is. Karrie doesn't look in the mirror and say, "I wish I looked like someone else." No, instead she says she loves herself, right down to her tummy. To me, that's a young woman who could teach a lot of other young women a thing or two.
Wet Seal sent us from our home in Illinois to California for a dream trip. While at their corporate headquarters, Karrie had a professional model shoot, a tour of the headquarters, was VIP at a new product line kick-off and had a shopping spree at one of their stores in a nearby mall.
What's her style? She says it's "biker chick," and while I have no idea where she got that phrase from, I love that she embraces the world of fashion and trying to sort out what makes her feel and look good.
In fact, when she first arrived out in Los Angeles to do the Wet Seal shoot, I was so nervous when I saw the large white background sheet behind her with the fans and the lights and the photographers ready to shoot her in different looks. Sometimes Karrie can get overwhelmed by various situations — and honestly, I think anyone would be intimidated by this situation — and I was so nervous with this entire room watching her, expecting her to perform. And then just like that, Karrie reduced me to tears of joy once again.
"Can you put on some Justin Bieber music?" she asked, and as soon as it started, she moved around in various poses like the owned the entire room. Where did she learn to do this? I have no idea, but I was so impressed. She amazed me and just about everyone else with what great modeling moves she had ready to show off to everyone watching.
I love that even during the day itself she showed me exactly what happens when you start underestimate someone. All it is — is a reflection on you.
Karrie knew she could be a model, and that's exactly what she showed me that day. I couldn't believe how much fun she was having, and it felt like a whirlwind set in motion. Soon after, Wet Seal also paid for us to go to Disneyland, which was, as you can imagine, a blast for Karrie, and then suddenly we saw stories about Karrie in languages we didn't speak from around the world.
But whatever the language, all the stories have said the same thing: Thank you for inspiring me to go after my own dreams, Karrie. Thank you for reminding me that I am beautiful, Karrie. Thank you for loving yourself.