Recently I saw a Facebook message from a mom whose young daughter is a wheelchair user. The post included a photo of her daughter looking at a window ad of a beautiful model who is also a wheelchair user, as they entered their local ULTA store. The mom’s message read:
"Well, Ulta Beauty, you absolutely stopped my girl in her tracks this evening. It was mesmerizing to watch her stop, turn, and gaze at this poster. So thank you. ❤ "
Not surprisingly, the Facebook post went viral. The photo and the mom’s remarks truly capture the essence of what we say often: Representation Matters.
This simple experience for the young girl and her mom--everyday people doing everyday things--has profound and lasting effects, and shapes behavior over time.
Consider how this one experience has shaped this young girl’s perception of her place in the world--in school, the workplace, the marketplace; and how it has shaped her perception, and that of her mom’s, of the ULTA brand.
This story reminded me of a recent piece written by GDI Brand Ambassador Shaholly Ayers about her experiences this summer as a youth mentor and the profound impact it has had on her.
“I recently volunteered as a camp counselor for Amputee Coalitions annual Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp - a place for kids to learn more about living with limb loss and limb difference. Here I was surrounded by children who had limb differences just like me! It was overwhelming at first because I had always been the only “different” person in my group. But after a while it became extremely comforting. It was amazing to watch these children have a safe place to play and feel normal! Here they could share their stories with one another without fearing judgment or sympathy. They could be themselves free of feeling “special,” less-than, or “othered.” Part of me was jealous that I never experienced camp as a child. It could have helped me get through my own struggles. I wouldn’t have been alone. That said, being there with them at my age now, I still felt a feeling of true acceptance, I’ve never before experienced. No one stared at me or took a double-glance, I wasn’t bombarded with questions, no, I was Shaholly. It was beautiful, freeing and strangely wonderful.
If there is a way to sum up my experience and share it with you, I’d tell you to find a support group. I always thought that I didn’t need that, or was strong enough to go without it, but I was wrong. If possible, I recommend giving back or volunteering your time at one of these organizations. It will not only help form their lives, but your life as well! “
Representation matters. With 20% of the population having a disability, it is likely that 20% of a company’s consumers, and employees, have had similar experiences when it comes to representation or lack thereof. The impact of seeing oneself represented…included…cannot be overstated, and its effects can be far-reaching, extraordinary and life-changing. Through accurate representation of its consumers, companies have the opportunity daily to shape the perception of their brand and culture. Like consumers, the effects on companies can be far-reaching, extraordinary and life-changing as they consistently look to improve their company’s bottom line.
Shaholly Ayers is entering her 5th year as GDI Brand Ambassador. A congenital amputee, Shaholly was the first model ever to walk a runway without a prosthetic at New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Fall 2018 marked Shaholly’s seventh season modeling at NYFW.
She has been featured in Nordstrom’s national catalog three times, Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive, ThirdLove, and Ulta Beauty. In 2018, she also made appearances on the Today Show and Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family as well as featured in People Magazine, Shape Magazine, Women's Health Magazine, Self.com and Today.com where she was named one of Today’s Style Heroes.
For more information on Amputee Coalition or the Paddy Rossbach Youth Camp