We all start out so unabashedly unashamed. Whatever makes us different we regard without concern of how others might be making assumptions about us.
Then it all changes. Someone. Somehow. Sometime. Something. We find ourselves thrust into the world of judgment, or painfully watch as our children face the same. Consumed by the unwelcome attention, we might struggle, sometimes for years.
As we turn the page to 2020, we once again choose to highlight those auspicious people that have demonstrated this past year that they have learned not to hide, but rather to flaunt whatever makes each of them unique and fabulous.
These phenomenal individuals have not only achieved unconditional self-acceptance, but appreciate its value so fully that just by being themselves they inspire others to do the same.
Melissa Viviane Jefferson (“Lizzo”)
Lizzo is an American singer-songwriter, rapper, flutist and actress. In 2019, she has received mainstream success with the release of her third studio album, Cuz I Love You and as the featured artist on Saturday Night Live and starred in the crime-comedy film, “The Hustlers.” Lizzo’s particular flaunt-worthy super power is in how unashamedly she loves every inch of herself. Lizzo’s message is to remind people that everyone is beautiful and deserving of love, both from others and themselves. According to Lizzo, ““Your criticism has no effect on me, negative criticism has no stake in my life, no control over my life, over my emotions – I’m the happiest I’ve been, I’m surrounded by love and I just want to spread that love.”
Shaquille (“Shaq”) O’Neal
Shaq needs no introduction. He is a retired American professional basketball player, rapper, actor, businessman, reserve police officer, doctorate recipient and TNT NBA Analyst. Shaq is not only widely perceived as one of the most dominant players in the history of the NBA, he has appeared in numerous films, TV shows, and featured as a guest rapper in music videos. This past summer Shaq was honored with a Flaunt It Award by our Jr. Flaunt Ambassador Olivia Atterberry. Not only did Shaq discuss how he has made the most of childhood insecurities, he excelled because of them. In his video acceptance of the 2019 DHIFI Flaunt It Award, Shaq stated, “I got over my insecurities of being tall and having a stutter and pursued what I loved. Get over your insecurities, be a leader not a follower. Follow your dreams and you can accomplish anything.”
Grace Strobel is a passionate Down Syndrome advocate and role model. Along with a successful modeling career, she is a public speaker giving powerful talks in front of audiences about ability awareness and inclusion. For example, she created #TheGraceEffect with her mom Linda, a mission to educate and spread awareness of disabilities to students in schools. She teaches the struggles of Down syndrome through fun demonstrations. Kids wear thick gloves to mimic reduced fine motor skills and then try to button shirts, or stand on special mats to experience feeling off-balance. According to Grace, “I love joking around with the students and seeing them understand what I might be going through on a daily basis,” Mocked as a child in school for being different, these days after delivering a speech, Grace receives high-fives and hugs from students. She believes she makes an impact because, as she says, “It’s coming from my heart, and not a teacher or parent.”
Michael Phelps is a 23-time Olympic Gold medalist who has chosen to be open about his having ADHD, anxiety and depression for the purposes of raising awareness so others with the same can seek and receive help. In 2019 Phelps teamed up with Talkspace for Mental Health Awareness Month “to let [people] know that getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.” Today Phelps understands that “It’s OK to not be OK.” According to him, “Mental illness has a stigma around it and that’s something we still deal with every day. I think people actually finally understand it is real. People are talking about it and I think this is the only way that it can change.”
Daisy-May Demetre is a 9-year-old model from the UK who just happens to be a double-amputee that walked this past September in New York’s Fashion Week. Daisy-May was born with fibular hemimelia, a rare defect in which part or all of the fibular bone is missing. As a result, she had to have both her legs amputated at just 18 months old and now uses prosthetic limbs to move and walk around. “I feel proud of myself,” Daisy-May said of her record-making journey down the catwalk. And behind every fabulous flaunter are parents supporting them every step of the way. According to Daisy-May’s father Alex, “She walked it like a professional and had fun doing it. I have always encouraged her to follow her dreams. To quote the NY Post in a profile piece on the young model in 2019, “One small strut for Daisy-May Demetre, one giant step for people living with disabilities.”
Kodi Taehyun Lee is an American singer-songwriter and pianist. He rose to fame after participating in and winning the 14th season of the successful reality show, America’s Got Talent. Born with optic nerve hypoplasia, Lee is legally blind and also autistic. Considered a “musical savant genius” since his childhood, Eric, Kodi’s father describes his son and his achievements pushing past adversity and embracing all of his natural talents: “Music to Kodi is like air. I mean it’s not like he’s an autistic, blind boy who likes music. It’s really a part of him and he’s driving himself to do better.” After winning AGT this past September, Kodi’s mother Tina also describes the greater meaning of his win for other families with children with special needs. According to Tina, “”It’s amazing. It’s opening doors for other families and to know that we made a difference is huge. I knew Kodi was here for a reason and, and now this proves it,” she said. “Winning the show is shocking but he did more than the show. He changed the world. He’s going to make it easier for families. He’s going to inspire families. He’s going to give strength to parents.”
Selma Blair is an American actress who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and continues to share her story in public to help others. According to her doctor, who underscored the courage in her openness in a 2019 interview with Blair in Vanity Fair: “I have patients with M.S. who are surgeons, actors, a commercial-airline pilot, sports figures, successful lawyers—they don’t want anyone to know about their illness because they feel it could hurt their career. Blair’s decision to speak out also brings awareness and increases research funding for the disease when people can see somebody affected in the way that she is.” And Blair continues to shine a light with grace and humor about her experience having M.S. with an attitude that deserves all of our praise. As Blair reflected after appearing on the Red Carpet this past year, “I saw people that were comforted that I wore a cane to a glamorous event, and I just, I didn’t even think about it,” she said. “I just didn’t want to fall! And then I hear how much it means to them, and I’m like, ‘Oh, well, I’m glad I’m useful!’”
Paul Stanley is an American musician, singer, song writer best known for being the rhythm guitarist and co-lead vocalist of the rock band KISS. In 2019, during an in-person interview with iconic journalist Dan Rather, Stanley was born deaf on his right side from a condition called microtia (Stanley was essentially born without an ear and instead a crumpled mass of cartilage.) As a result of his difference, Stanley endured years of bullying but pushed past the adversity, focusing on his talents and achieving success. An undeniable flaunter, Stanley told Rather: “The point really is, we can hide our secrets but we can never hide them from ourselves, and the only way to find happiness is to let go of those secrets.”
David Aguilar is a 19-year-old from Andorra, near Spain, who studies bioengineering at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya. Born without a right forearm, Aguilar built himself a robotic prosthetic arm using Lego pieces. According to Aguilar, “As a child I was very nervous to be in front of other guys, because I was different, but that didn’t stop me believing in my dreams.” He also created a presentation video on his YouTube channel that he runs under the nickname “Hand Solo” where he says his aim is to show people that nothing is impossible and disability cannot stop them. After graduating from university, Aguilar his dream is to create affordable prosthetic solutions for people who need them and is already using his fourth model of the colorful prosthetic. According to Aguilar, “I would try to give others a prosthetic, even if it’s for free, to make them feel like a normal person, because what is normal, right?”
Amy Schumer is an outstanding and successful comedian and actress. In 2019, in addition to having her first child with husband Chris Fischer, Schumer opened up to the media and national television about her husband’s high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder to help eradicate any stigma. ASD is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior including difficulty with communication and interaction with other people, restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. And to further double-down in her commitment to raising awareness, Schumer dropped a Netflix special titled, “Growing” where she opened up even further about love and Fischer’s having autism. For sharing their personal story and bringing visibility to people with ASD, Schumer received high praise from advocacy groups throughout the year.