Monika Myers is Canada's first runway model with Down syndrome. She's also a student, a synchronized swimmer and a Barbie fanatic.
The 15-year-old Ontario native was one of the first in the country to get her hands on Mattel's Barbie with Down syndrome.
"The doll I got is so beautiful," Myers told Yahoo Canada. "She has Down syndrome, she has my mom's hair color, blonde, and a beautiful little dress."
The dress is full flowers in yellow and blue, colours representing the Down syndrome awareness movement.
October marks Down Syndrome Awareness Month across the globe, and Canada is marking its own Canadian Down Syndrome Week from Oct. 22 to 28, to fundraise, educate and celebrate those with the condition.
Myers took to Instagram to share she feels "very fortunate to live in an inclusive society," but noted not everyone is as lucky. "I hope by helping raise awareness, people will see the ability in others and welcome them into their lives."
Barbie 'looks like me'
Recognizing the beauty in everyone is something the young model cherishes.
Back in May, when Myers first saw the new Barbie doll, she said her first thought was "she's beautiful, she looks like me!"
In an email to Yahoo Canada, a spokesperson for Mattel confirmed Myers was "one of the first Canadians" to have the newly released doll.
"The Barbie doll with Down syndrome was created to allow even more children to see themselves in Barbie, as well as have Barbie reflect the world around them," the spokesperson wrote.
"We were honoured that Monika's mother reached out to us to share Monika's love of Barbie dolls."
Myers said she's "very happy" to have this one, but to her, fashion and beauty extends beyond her favourite dolls.
One year ago, Myers began her own journey in modelling, allowing her to travel the world and land headlines as Canada's first professional runway model with Down syndrome.
Here's what you need to know about this trailblazer.
How it all began
Monika Myers was 14 when she decided she wanted to join the fashion industry.
"I love modelling," Myers said. "Me and my mom went to a fashion show in Hamilton… and I thought the models were so beautiful.
"My mom asked me one day if I wanted to model too, and I said, 'yes, of course.'"
Her mom, Stephanie Myers, told Yahoo Canada she saw Monika fall in love with modelling that day in Hamilton.
"The funny thing, Monika was always telling everybody that [they're] beautiful,'" Myers said. "And Monika said, 'Mom, every woman is beautiful.'"
And her daughter was right, Myers added.
"Around that time... there was the Victoria's Secret model with Down syndrome who just came out," Myers recalled of 25-year-old Sofía Jirau.
Jirau became Victoria’s Secret's first model with Down Syndrome, after the company decided to rebrand in 2021 due to failing cultural credibility. Two years prior to Jirau’s launch, Gucci announced its breakout star Ellie Goldstein, who made headlines as the first person with Down syndrome to star in a luxury fashion campaign.
Myers said the two women were "an inspiration" to Monika.
After seeing Monika’s excitement, the mom searched for inclusive modelling opportunities in the area. That’s when she came across the 2022 Toronto Kids Fashion Week.
"I asked if they were inclusive, and they said, 'Well, yes. But she still has to audition just like anybody else.'
"I asked how the audition was going and they said, 'Monika could teach the audition,'" she said with a laugh.
Monika added she was "excited" to star in her first show.
"I don't get nervous," she said confidently, "because I know I'm beautiful."
She gets her confidence from "family, friends and probably the whole world," the 15-year-old claimed.
Dreams coming true
Her mom said Monika has "always lived a very inclusive life.
"She has never felt anything other than that. She wanted to be on the runway, she had an opportunity the same as anybody else," Stephanie Myers said.
"Although she has Down syndrome, she sees herself as having equal opportunity to others… It doesn't define who she is, but it's just something that she has."
I don't get nervous, because I know I'm beautiful.Monika Myers, 15
"I loved it… it was my favourite fashion show I did. It was so fun" the young model said with a smile.
"I loved the dress and I just loved the fashion show; I cannot believe it."
Last month, Monika appeared in Paris Fashion Week — something that was a longtime dream for the model.
"Paris is my dream. I love Paris so much," she said back in May.
Besides modelling, Monika is "a very busy girl," her mom added. She’s also a competitive synchronized swimmer and attends school full-time.
Her goal is to one day become a designer.
"She can keep doing modeling as long as she loves it, and who knows where it will take her," Stephanie Myers added.
"Every parent… you're the happiest when you see your children doing what they love to do. And to see her on the runway, and feel her empowerment on the runway, I can just feel her energy."
'Brave and beautiful' is the motto
The mom explained Monika has been an inspiration to their family.
"She is the voice and the representation for not only people with Down syndrome, but for all people with visible and invisible disability."
Earlier this year, Monika was a keynote speaker at the United Nations World Down Syndrome Day conference in Trinidad and Tobago.
Monika said "it was amazing" to speak in front of a large group of people.
Her mom agreed. "Trinidad is not a very inclusive society. Monica spoke on the effects of inclusivity... it was a very high profile event," Myers said.
"Especially in Toronto, we are very fortunate to have such inclusivity, but it's wonderful to see the impact that (Monika) is having around the world."
Most recently, Monika was titled a National Down Syndrome Congress Ambassador and was a guest speaker at the 2023 Buddy Walk with the Down Syndrome Association of Toronto.
Her mom said Monika’s motto has become "brave and beautiful."
"Monika took that a step further and decided to create her wishlet bracelets to inspire others to believe in themselves," Myers said. Her daughter has given away more than 2000 of the bracelets at all the event she has attended.
"We all have insecurities, and we all have things that we would probably like to change about ourselves," Myers said.
"People with Down syndrome… their disability is visible. I think they see Monika with such confidence that says something to themselves, that helps to inspire themselves."
For Monika, inclusivity and equal opportunities are what she advocates for.
"Everyone is the same, and yet we are all different," she and her mom concluded. "It is these differences that make everyone interesting and beautiful."