SALEM, Ore. — Ellie Stafford, 2, is a natural in front of the camera.
If there’s one pointed at her, she doesn’t need prompting to flash a big, toothy grin.
Ask her for her modeling pose, and she tilts her head slightly to the side, raises shoulder and brings an index finger to her cheek.
Ellie, of Aurora, also has Down syndrome and she has just begun her modeling career.
Despite Ellie’s charisma and friendliness with the camera, her mother, Tiffany Stafford, never considered her daughter for a career in child modeling.
That was until her two older boys, 6 and 8, spotted a girl with Down syndrome in a toy ad for Target.
“She looks just like Sissy!” they said to their mom.
Tiffany Stafford realized it would mean a lot to her sons to see someone like their sister represented in the media.
Stafford had heard of the national campaign, Changing the Face of Beauty, which encourages businesses to feature people with disabilities in their ads, and decided to see if Ellie might have a shot. She submitted photos to a talent agency specializing in children, and eventually got picked up.
“I like the idea of her face being seen and other kids with disabilities to see that and say, ‘Hey, that’s like me,'” she said. “It’s like she’s just any other kid.”
Ellie’s agent, Jason Jeffords, said he decided to book her with his agency, Puddletown Talent, because of her smile, cuteness and family support.
“She really honestly had a light behind her,” he said.
In her first gig, Ellie modeled for a Portland-based children’s clothing brand, Hooray Haroo.
Katie Driscoll, founder and executive director of Chicago-based non-profit, Changing the Face of Beauty, said it is in brands’ interest to represent and cater to people with disabilities.
She called it an “emerging market the size of China,” quoting from an economics report.
“Almost 50% of people either have disability or know or love somebody with disability,” Driscoll said in a phone interview. “You’re looking at a profound number.”
The Return on Disability Group, a New York-based economic research firm, noted in a 2014 report that it was time to shift focus “from charity and accommodation” to attracting “customers and talent” in people with disabilities.
Driscoll said 100 brands, big and small, have made the pledge with her non-profit to feature people with disabilities in their advertising images.
Stafford said seeing the trend of more people with disabilities being hired to model makes her hopeful for Ellie’s future.
“It makes the future seem even brighter for Ellie,” she said. “She’ll be accepted.”
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