A young woman is fast becoming a known face in the fashion world as one of only a handful of models with Down syndrome representing high-profile fashion and beauty brands.
Meet Grace Strobel, 24, a hardworking model-cum-advocate who is using her platform for advocacy. Her message? “Rethink what’s possible.”
Grace, who lives with her family in St. Louis, Missouri, celebrated a milestone in September. She was invited to represent skincare brand Obagi in their 2020 “SKINclusion” campaign, becoming the first model with Down syndrome to represent a skincare line in the United States.
The inspirational model and her mother, Linda Strobel, shared their heart with The Epoch Times via a joint telephone interview.
Grace, who describes herself as a model, speaker, athlete, and advocate, writes in her Obagi campaign statement that people with disabilities sometimes feel invisible.
“I became a model and speaker to help people see the value in others,” she said.
Grace’s positive spirit belies the obstacles she faced on the road to modeling. In 2017, Grace was working in a high school cafeteria with her mother when a group of students called her over, wanting her to open their milk cartons. Grace’s mother intervened.
“I went over and said, ‘Hey guys, can I help you?’” Linda said. “And they said, ‘No, we want her to help us … because we know she can’t do it.’”
Grace was mortified. “I cried so hard … I died inside,” she said. “And that’s when I decided I wanted to make a difference. Now I want to share with students what it’s like to have struggles.”
The mom and daughter pooled their immense resolve and hatched a plan. The plan became The Grace Effect, an inclusivity mission with an interactive presentation for schools to promote disability awareness.
The mom-daughter duo’s presentation includes Grace’s story, plus activities to help students understand the experience of living with Down syndrome. They use simulations of what it feels like to stand from a seated position, fasten buttons, or navigate obstacles with impaired motor skills and vision using props like weighted backpacks, gloves, and binoculars.
“That’s what people with Down syndrome feel like every day,” Linda said.
During Linda’s pregnancy with Grace, she had a high Alpha-fetoprotein test, which indicated that she may be carrying a child with Down syndrome.
“My husband and I would not have done anything, any way, to change that,” Linda said.
“We named her Grace because she is a blessing to us,” Linda continued, “and when she was first born, I looked at her eyes, and I said I thought she was the most beautiful thing in the whole world.”
Grace was born into an era where people with Down syndrome were highly stigmatized. However, Linda and her husband knew from the start that their daughter had valid ambitions like everybody else.
“We didn’t treat Grace differently,” Linda said. “We just knew that she was going to have a different road.”
“I do think that God gives us hints along the way if we’re open to that.”
Citing Sally Field’s character in the movie “Forrest Gump,” a loving and protective mother who bolsters her son into believing he is as good as everybody else, Linda decided “that’s the kind of mom I was going to have to be.”
While researching for their Grace Effect presentation, Linda and Grace came across Ellie Goldstein, a model and advocate with Down syndrome from England. Ellie models for Gucci; Grace was enthralled and told her mother she’d like to become a model, too.
Linda was on board. Grace had her first photoshoot in the summer of 2018. She was a natural, and the photos went viral on social media. Grace said that she’s inspired by her younger sister, Lainey, a dancer.
“It’s actually very, very vulnerable to put your child out there, especially when we’re trying to do something like a paradigm shift,” Linda said.
But Linda knew that Grace had a lot to offer.
“We were able to bring out her gifts and her talents and show what she was capable of,” Linda said.
To date, Grace has modeled for numerous magazine fashion features and had three cover stories. Her first foray into inclusive apparel came in June 2020, when Alivia co-founder Jovana Mullins asked Grace to model for her brand. Alivia uses original artwork by people with various disabilities to print beautiful bespoke apparel for women.
Linda said that her young daughter is “changing the landscape for people with disabilities.”
“Now the world gets to see what people with disabilities are capable of. We’re also just humbled that she gets to be a part of all this change,” Linda said.
Grace’s latest campaign with Obagi skincare is a huge leap forward for diversity inclusivity in the beauty world. In her campaign statement, Grace explains that she is proud to have Down syndrome and a platform to transform “pain into purpose.”
During October’s Down Syndrome Awareness month, Obagi president Jaime Castle lauded Grace for her “elegance, humor, ambition, and determination.” Jaime knew upon meeting Grace that the brand wanted to bring her on board.
Grace is ambitious. She wants to live on her own one day, get married, and continue modeling and inspiring others with her empowering message. Grace, her sister, and her parents are united in their shared goal to help people “rethink what’s possible,” and to respect and value people with disabilities.
“I actually think of Grace as kind of like a spirit helper,” Linda told The Epoch Times. “She’s like people who show us and tell us our dreams are possible … what I think Grace is doing is she’s making a path for other people to say, ‘I can do it too.’”
“Be confident,” added Grace. “Believe in yourself, and work hard, and never give up.”
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