Sofa Jirau made history last week when she became the first model with Down syndrome to appear in a Victoria’s Secret campaign. The photographs are breathtaking, but the shoot’s announcement sparked indignation among some.
Critics have slammed her historic achievement as objectifying, claiming that it is immoral to sexualize someone with Down syndrome. While large swaths of the internet applaud a big milestone in disability portrayal, others express concern for her well-being.
Jirau is 24 years old and fully capable of making an educated decision regarding her participation in a campaign she describes as a “dream come true.”
Despite this, others say her independence is a ruse and that the campaign exploits her particular needs.
This desexualisation of disabled lives still thrives today. Disabled sexuality is deemed “gross”, fetishised by people who see those with disabled bodies as kinks, not human beings, and sidelined in sex education. There are countless roots stemming from this toxic tree, which all contribute to stripping disabled people of agency, but one of the central players is infantilisation.
Non-disabled frequently treat disabled people as children without power or authority by deferring to carers or family members. They see sexualising us as equivalent to sexualising a child. But we are not children. We are adults with sexual desires and sensuality that should be celebrated.
An array of things, especially society’s deeply ingrained ableism and inadequate standards of sex education, need to be fixed before disabled sexuality is protected and celebrated. But these images from Victoria’s Secret are a crucial step on the long journey we still have ahead of us.
Our community needs the opportunity to be sexualised in safe, consensual and respectful environments – so give us the opportunities. I want to see disabled people strut on catwalks in lingerie, lounge in sexy sets on social media, engage in healthy relationships on TV, and glow on billboards 50 feet high.