The 6-year-old Down Syndrome model: A 'turning point' for fashion?

Parents applaud Target and Nordstrom for including a kid with special needs in ads... and not making a big deal out of it

Ryan, a 6-year-old with Down syndrome
(Image credit: Nordstrom)

The image: Target won praise from parents this week, after it released a clothing ad featuring a 6-year-old boy named Ryan, who has Down syndrome. A blog called Noah's Dad, written by the father of another child with Down syndrome, posted the ad and praised the retailer for treating special-needs kids the same as everyone else (see the ad below). "This wasn't a 'Special Clothing For Special People' catalog," he wrote. "There wasn't a call out somewhere on the page proudly proclaiming that 'Target's proud to feature a model with Down syndrome in this week's ad!' And they didn’t even ask him to model a shirt with the phrase, 'We Aren't All Angels' printed on the front. In other words, they didn't make a big deal out of it. I like that." And it wasn't Ryan's first modeling gig. He was cast in a Nordstrom's catalogue last year. "The whole process of modeling is an extreme confidence booster for him," his mom wrote in a comment at Noah's Dad. "He's a beautiful boy, inside and out!"

The reaction: This is "a turning point in commercial fashion," says Emma Jones at Lime Life. Given how harsh and "fickle" the modeling industry can be, Target and Nordstrom deserve praise for being so inclusive. Ryan's smiling face is a welcome sight, says Dodai Stewart at Jezebel, but Target wasn't exactly taking risks. High-end brands such as Calvin Klein or Chanel will always "aim for exclusivity" with ads featuring "impossibly pretty people in multi-million-dollar homes and jets." But mass-market companies "thrive on a democratic, 'something for everyone!' vibe." Target and Nordstrom could bet going in that the middle-class parents they're targeting would "take note, and applaud." Maybe, but it's nice that Ryan is "not singled out," says Julia Rubin at The Frisky. The ads don't struggle to prove a point. They just treat Ryan like "just another super cute kid smiling for the camera." Check out Target's ad for yourself:

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