In February of 2020 during New York’s Fashion Week, the “glass-ceiling” was once again shattered into millions of tiny pieces when 24-year-old model Sofia Jirau, stepped onto the runway, joined by 17 other young women as the first-ever Down syndrome model employed within the internationally acclaimed Victoria’s Secret stable of models.
“One day I dreamt it, I worked at it and today it’s a dream come true. I can finally share my big secret,” Jirau wrote on her Instagram in Spanish, alongside a black and white photo of herself sporting a bra from the company. “I am the first Victoria’s Secret model with Down syndrome!”
Jirau was joined on the runway by both professional and non-professional models of all skin tones, sizes, and ages. Famous personalities like Hailey Bieber, Adut Akech, and Taylor Hill were also on the runway a part of the “Love Cloud” campaign, promoting the brand’s newest underwear collection centered around all-day comfort.
The young Puerto Rican entrepreneur also runs her own online store, called “Alavett,” a Spanish-English play on the words “I love it,” Jirau’s favorite phrase. She sells everything from wallets and shirts to phone cases and mugs printed with the signature brand name and a heart doodle. She’s also the second Puerto Rican model featured in a Victoria’s Secret campaign. The first was supermodel Joan Smalls, who made her runway debut in 2011.
“When I was little, I looked myself in the mirror and said, ‘I’m going to be a model and a businesswoman,’” she told PEOPLE magazine at the time.
The no nonsense advocate has also launched a Spanish language campaign dubbed No Limits, that aims to show that people with Down syndrome can achieve their goals despite their condition.
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“Thank you, Victoria’s Secret, for seeing me as a model who has #NoLimits and making me part of the inclusive Love Cloud Collection campaign,” Jirau wrote on Instagram. “Inside and out, there are no limits, Alavett!”
“I always say ‘Inside and out there are no limits’ to motivate people to break through their self-imposed limitations,” the model writes on her website.
Jirau is part of the Victoria’s Secret re-branding campaign, in which the once iconic and physically intimidating and fit Victoria’s Secret “Angels” are being replaced by more physically realistic models that appeal to much broader segment of women, within the retail marketplace.
“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” said Victoria’s Secret chief executive Martin Waters last year. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”
“Love Cloud Collection is a major moment in the brand’s evolution,” Martinez said in a statement.
Adding; “From the cast of incredible women that bring the collection to life, to the incredible inclusive spirit on set, this campaign is an important part of the new Victoria’s Secret standard we are creating.”
According to the human rights division of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), the issue of sexuality among Down syndrome individuals like Sofia Jirau was wrongly considered a none-issue, believing that “intellectual disability meant a permanent state of childhood.”
Thankfully, that antiquated thinking by so-called professionals has been woefully inaccurate, in that Down syndrome individuals have sexual feelings and intimacy needs, like everyone else, only that the timeline in some instances may be in question.
Thus, according to NDSS; “Children with Down syndrome experience the same sequence of physical and hormonal changes associated with puberty as other children their age. However, there is often a lag in the development of social maturity, emotional self-control and problem-solving abilities.”
Appropriate sex education is therefore important, paying strong attention to decision-making, peer pressures, relationships and social skills.