Just before Halloween, I came across a Facebook post praising Target for a costume ad.
Jen Kroll, the woman who wrote the post, was really excited to see a young girl with arm braces modeling a Halloween costume.
While including all sorts of people in ads should matter to all of us, this particular one hit really close to home for Jen. Here's why:
Her beautiful daughter, Jerrensia, uses arm braces and has prosthetic legs.
Jerrensia also loves Elsa and has one of the most ridiculously adorable smiles of all time. Just. Look.
(You can read more about Jen's initial reaction to the ad and Jerrensia's amazing story in my last article.)
When I saw her daughter's photo from Halloween, my heart filled up with all of the feelings.
Even before the Target ad came out, Jerrensia had wanted to go as Elsa. And here she is in her Halloween costume! Elsa's smile never looked so brilliant.
For Jen and her husband, the Target ad supported the message they've been sharing with Jerrensia all along. " Seeing the ad only solidified the message that we have communicated to her — she can be anything she wants to be!" Jen told me. "Princesses can rock both a cape and crutches. Seeing another child who was relatively the same age with the same crutches normalized her own disabilities in a very tangible way."
Jen couldn't believe the incredible response to her Facebook post and our article — and what followed.
Lots of other media outlets and news stations picked up the story, and it spread across the world. "My love letter to Target and its rapid explosion across the globe caught us completely by surprise," Jen told me. Even better was how overwhelmingly positive the responses were.
Surprising? Sure. Most of us don't expect such a huge reaction to a Facebook post. But long overdue? Ab-so-lutely.
And here's why, in Jen's words.
"I long for Jerrensia's gorgeous and contagious smile to be the first thing that other children see, with the disability only as an afterthought. The reality is that just is not the case. Instead, the children she would love to play with are transfixed on her prosthetic legs and often ask, 'What's wrong with her?'
A child can only hear 'What's wrong with you?' so many times before they start to believe that something MUST BE WRONG with them. What a horrible, everyday experience for so many kids with special needs and their introduction into the general public."
Whether we like it or not, our exposure to what we think of as "normal" often comes from the media.
And when the media tends to portray only a very narrow group of people — through movies, TV shows, commercials, and print ads — that's pretty much what we expect people to look like.
But that narrow view leaves out so many people — people like Jerrensia, who are unique, vibrant individuals who deserve to been seen and appreciated for who they are. We need things to change!
"When disabilities are normalized ... they are less intimidating or bizarre and we begin to see each other as exquisite creations with a huge capacity for laughter and friendship," Jen told me. "The degree of our differences becomes irrelevant. If attitude and behavior shifts become possible because we collectively decide to put our money behind media sources that embrace inclusion, it is a huge win for our planet."
The important takeaway (besides how fantastic Jerrensia is, of course)? Our voices matter!
Jen says she doesn't believe most companies will suddenly become more inclusive just because it's the right thing to do. They'll do it when it's the financially smart thing to do.
Target's ad was a win for inclusion, for validation — and for Target's bottom line. And that's what Jen wants to see more of.
"I can count on one hand the number of retailers, TV, and movies targeted towards children that contain individuals with special needs," she told me. "This does not begin to scratch the surface of equal representation in our society."
Jerrensia just celebrated her sixth birthday this weekend. Like most moms, Jen imagines a future for her daughter where inclusion is the norm — and I think that's possible!
As Jen put it: "It's about time we make a stand for the kind of world we want to live in. Where and how we spend our money matters. And sometimes random Facebook posts expressing gratitude for doing the right thing can open the eyes of more people than we could ever imagine — our words hold power."