When we think of models and ad campaigns, there are likely a lot of images that cross our minds. Some are sexy, some are sweet, but almost all of them have something very basic in common: No matter what the ethnicity or gender of the model, they are always “perfect.” Perfect skin, hair, teeth, bodies—they all seem to be representing the standardized ideal of what is not only beautiful, but acceptable in our society. They are faces that don’t truly reflect the real nature of the consumer. Consumers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, skin types, and abilities, and while there are movements to diversify the faces that represent our goods and services, one woman wants to open the door for more than just different body types. Katie Driscoll, mother of six and Chicago-area photographer, wants to see a diversity of abilities in advertising so she started the campaign, Changing the Face of Beauty.
“Changing the Face of Beauty started three years ago. I was photographing my daughter, who happens to have Down Syndrome for small Etsy vendors. A friend— Steve English—took notice and asked me to do the same for his flower shop. I did, and we agreed we both wanted to branch out to other young adults and children with disabilities, so he provided product and I took the images and that is where it began,” says Driscoll.
That simple beginning has gone from a simple project to a full-fledged movement. What began with that one flower shop has turned into much more: Changing the Face of Beauty became a registered nonprofit in November 2014 and in April of this year, they celebrated a major milestone. One hundred companies have made the commitment to use models with disabilities in their advertising. It’s a big success for the organization.
“I started out approaching companies, and I still do that in the evenings, but as the campaign has progressed brands are now reaching out to me wanting to know more about the opportunity and how to become involved,” she says.
For Driscoll, a social worker turned HR recruiter, the growth of the project has been a learning experience.
“Images speak louder than words. I learned to suggest change. I had to show retailers what it would look like, kind of what is possible. I also learned that if I could convince just one person others would follow. I worked really hard to convince that one person,” she says. “Once I had a believer, things got a lot easier. I also learned that people with disabilities are not being left out on purpose in most cases. Once companies hear how important that tweak in their advertising is, most are very receptive to the change.”
It’s a change that is starting to spread. Driscoll receives lots of feedback from the companies she works with and she’s seeing a lot of shifts in perspective and perceptions.
“The most exciting part is the feedback from the retailers when they find out how simple it was to include a model with a difference. Their perceptions on what is needed to make that tweak in their ads has been forever changed and most say it was no big deal. A lot say the photo shoots are more enjoyable,” she says. “I have companies wanting to change their operations and internal imagery because of the question Changing the Face of Beauty asks of ‘Why not include the largest minority in the world?’ These tweaks and changes are important to the future of all people living with differing abilities and they open up new opportunity for employment that might not have been there without this visibility.”
Driscoll not only has great hope for the futures of those with differing abilities, but also for Changing the Face of Beauty as well. One hundred committed companies is only the beginning.
“My hope is that companies continue to commit to Changing the Face of Beauty and we can continue to grow together as a team. I would love to see companies not only embrace diversified imagery, but employment as well,” she shares. “It would be great if large corporations support small businesses that employ people with disabilities by providing them with ideas to grow their businesses and maybe even sell their products. The more products these small businesses sell, the more people with disabilities they can hire. I believe there is a world of opportunity under the umbrella of Changing the Face of Beauty, and I hope I have the opportunity to see it used to its greatest potential. I definitely believe change is coming for the better.”