For One Teen With a Disability, Being Included in a Beauty Campaign “Changed Everything”

Lexi Brake, 15, has set her sights on becoming a model.

“I’m super tall and super beautiful, so that’s my ultimate dream,” she said, adding with a sincere gust of laughter that could shake a house. “That, and to have a lot of Instagram followers.” She’s long looked up to other models, like her mother Kym’s best friend. And her confidence is palpable; even through the phone, you can hear it thumping.

The problem is, growing up with Dandy-Walker syndrome, a congenital brain malformation that limits the development of different parts of the cerebellum and therefore affects voluntary muscle movements and coordination, she never saw anyone who looked like her in media or advertising. Because despite the beauty industry’s push for more representation across skin tones, gender expressions, and body types, the visibility for people with disabilities (which, by the way, amounts to 61 million, or one in four, in the US) remains largely overlooked. In turn, living with Dandy-Walker syndrome became a part of Brake she wanted to keep hidden, shut off from the world.

“It’s hard to tell people what I have sometimes because they might not understand.”

“It’s kind of hard to tell people what I have sometimes because they might not understand,” she said, which perhaps serves as the exclamation point to her mom’s observation: “Lexi always yelled at me whenever I would tell people about her syndrome; she would get really embarrassed.”

Then, one night – everything changed. Brake was out to dinner with her mom in California when up-and-coming skincare brand Kinship approached her with an opportunity to model for its first campaign. “It was completely by chance,” said Alison Haljun, the cofounder and president of the brand. “Our producer for the photo shoot was at the same restaurant and saw Lexi and thought, ‘Wow, she would be a great addition to our lineup.'”

They cast her on the spot.