On February 7th, Gerber announced that their new “spokesbaby” will be Lucas Warren. Lucas will be Gerber’s first spokesbaby to possess down syndrome in the brand’s 91-year history. Bill Partyka, chief executive and president of Gerber, said, “Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber’s long-standing heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby,” (Klein, 2018). Representation of down syndrome is essential as it provides an opportunity for the public to gain more insight into the disorder. Not only that, but it also allows people with down syndrome to be seen as individuals rather than a group or stereotype.
Those with down syndrome have often been narrowly viewed as compassionate, helpless, and oblivious. BBC Three recently did a segment titled “Things People With Down Syndrome Are Tired of Hearing,” which covers the various stereotypes associated with down syndrome. This includes the beliefs such that adults with down syndrome act like children, people with down syndrome can’t live independently, and people with down syndrome can’t hold down jobs. The lives of those with the illness have changed in many ways as a result of medical and social advances. This change incorporates the hiring of special education teachers and new treatments that alleviate the physical obstacles that come along with down syndrome. Journalist, David Perry speaks against the two-dimensional view of down syndrome. When strangers or even relatives learn that Perry’s son has down syndrome, they often say things like “‘Downs kids’ are God’s angels sent down to Earth” (Perry, 2012). While Perry agrees that people with down syndrome can be amicable and cordial, he knows that his child is no angel; he’s just like any other kid. He asserts, “Most parents who have spent time changing diapers, dealing with tantrums or trying to get a sleepy child, with or without Down syndrome, getting him/her ready for the school bus in time know that ‘angel’ doesn’t always cut it” (Perry, 2012). In the past few years, there have been shifts in the representation of down syndrome in the media. The television series Life Goes On was the first major series to have the main character played by someone who possesses down syndrome. The show’s central character, Corky, is an 18-year-old teenager in high school. He undergoes heartbreak, difficulties studying, and social pressures like any other student (Gee, 2012). Another portrayal of the illness includes the musical-comedy Glee. The show possessed a major supporting character who had down syndrome and went against many stereotypes. Not only was she independent, but she pursued a relationship, and also possessed a fierce personality.
The way that down syndrome is represented in the media shapes how we view the people who possess it. Lucas’s mother says, “We know Gerber chose him [Lucas] because of his cuteness, but it also is spreading awareness of acceptance of people with disabilities of all kinds. No matter if we have a disability or not, we’re all just humans” (Klein, 2018). Although people like Lucas are impacted by Down syndrome, it is important to think of them as individuals over their syndrome. While the portrayal and representation of people with down syndrome are expanding and changing, there are still a number of stereotypes and misconceptions being perpetuated about the syndrome.
Gee, C., & Everbach, T. E. (2012, December). Down syndrome and self-esteem: the media’s portrayal of self-esteem in characters who have Down syndrome. University of Northern Texas. https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc177198/m2/1/high_res_d/thesis.pdf
Klein, A. (2018, February 08). Lucas was just named 2018 Gerber baby. He has Down syndrome. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2018/02/07/lucas-was-just-named-2018-gerber-baby-he-has-down-syndrome/?utm_term=.f3a348b8f3f4
Perry, D. M. (2012, November 17). Don’t label people with Down syndrome. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2012/11/16/opinion/perry-down-syndrome/index.html