Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, Grace Strobel was an average teenager with huge dreams.
While the 24-year-old has Down syndrome, her parents never made a big deal out of it, and she grew up happy and healthy. Yet even with her loving, supportive family, she was still bullied by kids who just didn’t understand her.
Even though disabilities are common in the U.S., the lack of representation in the media is glaring. Sadly, that can lead to the kind of bullying Grace experienced, where children dislike what they don’t understand.
After one terrible incident in the high school cafeteria where Grace was working at age 20, she and her mom, Linda Strobel, decided to do something about it.
They started The Grace Effect, a series of school presentations that raise awareness for the everyday struggles people with disabilities face. Grace was brave enough to become a speaker and an advocate for those with Down syndrome and other conditions and has addressed about 3,000 students at more than 100 schools in the years since!
As she researched other people with disabilities, she found another woman with Downs who recently landed a Gucci cosmetics campaign in England. Ellie Goldstein has achieved huge success as an inclusive model in the fashion world, and Grace was immediately inspired!
She asked her mom if she had what it takes to become a model like Ellie. “And she said, ‘I don’t see why not! Let’s do this,'” Grace told Forbes.
So Grace launched herself into a new career with her usual vigor, landing her first photo shoot in 2018. Her pictures went viral, and now she has signed with three different modeling agencies, appeared in various magazines, and even gone on “The Today Show.”
She was also featured by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way foundation and became an ambassador for Obaji’s Skinclusion campaign. Most recently, she participated in a womenswear campaign for Alivia. The unique brand features clothing based on original artwork by artists with disabilities!
“It means the world to us for Grace to represent a brand that believes in everything we’re doing, and brings respect and dignity to people with disabilities,” Linda said.
As for Grace, she hopes her success in modeling will open doors for others! She’s determined to reach the day when it’s common to see people with Downs and other conditions in the media and has her sights set on high-fashion brands like Chanel and Versace.
“I want to keep on modeling and speaking,” she said. “And have people rethink what’s possible.”
It would have been easy for Grace to hide from the negativity and bullying she experienced, but instead she chose to face it head-on! We can’t wait to see what this talented trailblazer does next!
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