Seven Pittsburgh area girls with disabilities never thought they would be models for a national clothing line, but you’ll see their pictures all over the stores and online for the clothing company Aerie this month. Aerie is based in Pittsburgh and is owned by American Eagle Outfitters, headquartered on the South Side.
Each of the girls was chosen because of her participation with Special Olympics. They were photographed with Olympic gymnast, Aly Raisman, and model, Iskra Lawrence, and the girls and their families said it was the chance of a lifetime.
The “AerieREAL” campaign, using real people as models, is celebrating the Special Olympics 50th anniversary, and Special Olympics selected girls from the Pittsburgh region for the ads. See it here.
Daijah Massie, who’s 19 years old and graduated from Baldwin High School, told KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen she liked the photos, especially, “I like the one when I have a ponytail.”
Danielle “Dee” List is 18 and a graduate of McKeesport High School. She said, “The fun thing about it was trying on clothes and meeting new friends.”
When asked about what it was like to see themselves on posters at the mall and on the Aerie website, Kaitlyn Anderson, who will be a senior at Baldwin High School, said, “I was impressed by myself.” Emily Mazur, a student at East Allegheny High School, said, “It was awesome. I would like to be a model someday.”
Several of the girls go to Baldwin High School where they work in the school coffee shop and compete on the field where Baldwin hosts Special Olympics games. They play all kinds of sports. Hanna Petrucelli, a student at Fox Chapel High School, said she plays bocce. And Kaitlyn Anderson said, “This year, I got first in javelin and first place in shotput.”
Jessica Clayton, who’s 26 years old and lives in Bethel Park, said, “I think Special Olympics changed my life, and I’m just happy I started out so young doing it.”
Jessica Kury, who handles special events for Special Olympics in Pennsylvania, says, “That’s what we like to bring to our athletes — joy, opportunity, and inclusion.”
The parents of the girls in the ads are thrilled Aerie is featuring people with disabilities as models. Amy Anderson, Kaitlyn’s mom, says, “Kaitlyn works a job. She makes her own money. She buys clothes, but up until now, she hasn’t really seen herself reflected or represented in different outlets.” She added, “I felt like it was…. about time.”
The girls hope their smiles send a message. Emily said, “Don’t let anybody judge you, and be yourself.” Kaitlyn added, “I can say, just be who you are and let it show.”
Through the end of this month, Aerie will be collecting donations at all registers across the country for Special Olympics.