This Down Syndrome Activist Is Helping Students Learn How to Treat Others With Respect
"It's okay to be who you are. I am proud of who I am, and what I am doing."
Sundays are a day to recharge and reset by hanging with friends, turning off your phone, bathing for hours on end, or doing whatever else works for you. In this column (in conjunction with our Instagram Self-Care Sunday series), we ask editors, experts, influencers, writers, and more what a perfect self-care Sunday means to them, from tending to their mental and physical health to connecting with their community to indulging in personal joys. We want to know why Sundays are important and how people enjoy them, from morning to night.
March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day.
When model, speaker, and Down syndrome advocate Grace Strobel was bullied in high school in 2018, she felt alone and hated by her classmates. "I cried so hard I couldn't stop. I died inside," the now 24-year-old tells HelloGiggles.
Yet while she could have let that situation defeat her, she instead decided to use it as inspiration to make a difference in others' lives. "I wanted to share with students what it's like to have struggles, and I wanted to show how you can change someone's life just by being kind and giving respect," Strobel explains.
That's when she decided to create The Grace Effect, a presentation to help students understand how to others well and also to show what's possible for someone living with a disability. As she was researching, she came across a girl who had Down syndrome and was a model. "So I asked my mom if I could be a model, too," Strobel recalls. "And she said, 'I don't see why not! Let's do this, Grace!' So, we started on this amazing journey that brought me here today.'"
Now, Strobel is a full-time model and speaker. She has been in 15 different magazines, with three cover stories; has spoken to over 3000 students; and was an ambassador for Be Strong Global, a national organization empowering youth to prevent bullying. Today, she's Obagi's newest SKINclusion Ambassador. Yet according to Strobel, her biggest accomplishment is how she turned a horrible bullying situation into a life-long career of helping others.
"Sometimes our biggest sorrows become our greatest achievements. And it feels really good to turn pain into purpose and help others," she says. "It also gives me a voice."
For this week's Self-Care Sunday, we spoke to Strobel to learn more about her many accomplishments, her go-to self-care rituals, and what she wants doctors to know when treating women with Down syndrome.
HelloGiggles (HG): What do you want people to know about living with Down syndrome?
Grace Strobel (GS): That having Down syndrome does not define you. I am just like anyone else. I have friends, a career, a loving faith community, and hobbies.
HG: What physical activities have you been doing lately for your self-care?
GS: I run about 2.5 miles every day. It makes me feel calm and relaxed. I also love painting because it just makes me feel very peaceful inside.
HG: As a Down syndrome advocate, how do you suggest others physically show up for people who may have this condition?
GS: It's okay to be who you are. I am proud of who I am, and what I am doing. Everyone deserves to be seen, heard, and valued.
HG: What form of community care have you been doing lately? And what does that term mean to you?
GS: My mom and I make sandwiches every week for the homeless. It makes me happy to help others. You have two hands. One for helping yourself and one for helping others.
HG: What do you want doctors to do differently when treating people who have Down syndrome?
GS: Treat me with respect. Talk right to me. Include me in the conversation and treat me as an adult. Explain things to me.
HG: You created #TheGraceEffect to help students know how to treat people with kindness and respect. What is the biggest stereotype you discuss and try to break during these presentations?
GS: We want and need the same things that everyone else wants and needs. We want a good education; we want people to believe in us and give us opportunities to succeed. We want to be included, have friends and be loved. We want to be cheerleaders, play sports, be in the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. We want to go to college, have jobs and a chance to show our abilities.
We have our own gifts and talents we bring to the world. And when people give us the chance, believe in us, and support us, we can do just about anything! We are artists, musicians, high school and college graduates, models, actors, swimmers, gymnasts and cheerleaders.
HG: Are there any products you've been using lately during your self-care routine?
HG: What are some self-care practices that have been bringing you joy?
GS: I love listening to music, hanging out with friends, texting, watching movies and making TikToks.