A 14 month-old Down Syndrome baby landed a coveted spot in a child-modeling agency not because they were trying to be “inclusive” or meet a quota, but because the wide-eyed little girl is just plain irresistable.
The Daily Mail is reporting that little Taya Kennedy was one of just a few children chosen by Urban Angels, a prestigious UK modeling agency, whose photos will grace the ads of major retailers such as Burberry and The GAP.
“Taya is an incredibly photogenic, warm and smiley child, and that shines through in her photographs,” said Alysia Lewis, owner of Urban Angels.
The agency, whose standards are very high, only opens their books twice a year and selects just 50 children from the 2,000 who apply.
“That she has Down’s Syndrome did not enter the equation. We chose her because of her vibrancy and sense of fun. Not all children are comfortable in front of a lens and with a photographer looking at them — especially when they are so young. But Taya was so relaxed and happy. She was just what we were looking for.”
Lewis says retailers are already lining up to feature the bubbly toddler in their advertising campaigns.
Of course, no one could be more proud than her mother, 29 year-old Gemma Andre.
“I always believed my daughter was stunning but I thought, ‘I’m her mum. I’m biased’,” she says.
When the agency called to say they wanted Taya on their books, Gemma was stunned and asked if they were aware that she had Down’s Syndrome. The agency told her, “It’s immaterial. We’ve accepted her.”
At that, Gemma burst into tears.
Ever since the day she was born, Gemma has been fighting the negative stereotypes that surround Down’s Syndrome children. Born in September, 2010, the first thing she noticed about her newborn baby were her slanted eyes.
She and Taya’s father, Robbie Kennedy, cried for joy when they held their beautiful new daughter for the first time.
But ten minutes later their joy changed to fear and anxiety when the doctor told them, “I think she has Down’s Syndrome” and left the room.
“From that moment I was mourning for the child I hadn’t had,” Gemma recalled. “We couldn’t help but selfishly wonder why this had happened to us. We weren’t prepared for it. We couldn’t celebrate. We felt numb and grief-stricken; just devastated.”
They were also overwhelmed by the extent of Taya’s disabilities, such as her poor muscle tone, two holes in her heart, and deficiencies in her sight, hearing and bowels.
“We didn’t know what to expect or hope for. We were literally sent home with a booklet. But from that moment I knew I had to fight in Taya’s corner, to research everything I could about her condition and do all I could to ensure she would have every chance in life.”
Almost immediately, Taya began to defy the limitations that were placed upon her. Doctors said she wouldn’t be able to breastfeed because Down’s children have oversized tongues and weak jaw muscles, but her mother was determined to do so and succeeded in breast feeding Taya for nine months.
Even though children with Down’s Syndrome typically don’t walk until age three to five years, Taya is expected to start walking by Christmas. Doctors said her teeth would not develop but Taya already has seven baby teeth. They also said she would be slow to speak but Taya is already saying dad, mum, nana, cat and ta. She’s also attending a mainstream nursery school and doing just fine.
“So now I take no notice of what the experts say,” Gemma said.
Even more adorable is her daughter’s sunny disposition.
“She wakes up with a smile on her face and goes to sleep smiling. She hardly ever cries,” Gemma told the Mail. “I was worried at first because she was so peaceful.”
The idea to enroll her with the agency came from her cousin Eletta who liked the Urban Angels website and how ethnically inclusive it was. Gemma decided she had nothing to lose by submitting a few photos of Taya and was shocked when the agency contacted her shortly thereafter to bring her in for a photo shoot.
Gemma decided not to tell them Taya had Down’s because she wanted her child to be picked on her own merit rather than to be a token disabled child.
The moment the camera focused upon her, it became apparent that Taya was a natural. She smiled on cue and was full of life and laughter.
Not long after the shoot, the agency called to say, “We want her on our books. She’s absolutely beautiful.”
Gemma couldn’t agree more. “With Taya you get the whole package: she has her difficulties, but she is clever, strong and she laughs all the time. She has such an expressive little face. People say, ‘Don’t you wish she was a normal child?’ but without her disability she wouldn’t be Taya, so we wouldn’t change anything about her.”
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