Lifestyle & Human Interest

4-Year-Old in Wheelchair Meets Model with Disability Who Captured Her Gaze in Viral Photograph


Maren Anderson, a 4-year-old girl from Virginia, got to meet her new hero, Steph Aiello, a professional model who uses a wheelchair just like Maren.

Maren was born with a rare and complex disease caused by a gene mutation. She uses a wheelchair, speaks in short sentences and relies heavily on nonverbal communication.

Maren and her mom, Carolyn Anderson, were passing by an Ulta Beauty store in Leesburg, Virginia, when Maren saw a large poster advertisement that made her literally stop in her tracks.

“On this particular evening, Maren was cruising on the sidewalk in her wheelchair with a confidence we had not seen before,” Anderson told ABC’s Good Morning America.

“She was so eager, we could barely get her to stop at crosswalks. Then, she suddenly stopped and focused all her attention on this image of a woman in a wheelchair like hers. It was amazing.”

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Anderson described her daughter’s fascination in a Facebook post.

“It was mesmerizing to watch her stop, turn and gaze at this poster,” she wrote.

At that moment, Anderson realized her daughter was experiencing a deep sense of belonging in the world.

“She got to see herself in this picture, and that planted a seed for her to see that there is a place for kids like her in this world. She was included,” Anderson said.

Aiello, the Ulta Beauty model in the advertisement that had Maren so captivated, was left paralyzed after a car accident nine years ago.

She believes that representation in advertising matters, as evidenced by little Maren’s remarkable reaction to the photo.

Ulta Beauty flew Aiello to the Virginia store so she and Maren could meet in person and enjoy a day of shopping.

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The day was unforgettable for the pair, as they looked around the Ulta store, raced down the aisles, and bonded over their shared wheelchair experience.

They went back outside to gaze at the photo together, Aiello convinced more than ever that she is exactly where she needs to be in her life.

“This is what the world needs,” Aiello told WYCN-TV of representation in advertising. “The world needs this to be our community as opposed to just my community.”

Aiello is thrilled to be a role model for Maren.

“I am honored to be a part of her future, and to be a staple and show her that dreams do come true,” Aiello said.

Maren’s parents are thankful that the image of their daughter went viral for all the right reasons. They hope that one day, diversified representation in advertising will be the norm.

“It is our hope that families who see images like the one at Ulta Beauty will have open and continued dialogue with their children about inclusion,” Anderson told GMA.

“Our wish is that one day it won’t be newsworthy to see our daughter and other people with disabilities represented, it will be commonplace,” she said.

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A graduate of Grand Canyon University, Kim Davis has been writing for The Western Journal since 2015, focusing on lifestyle stories.
Kim Davis began writing for The Western Journal in 2015. Her primary topics cover family, faith, and women. She has experience as a copy editor for the online publication Thoughtful Women. Kim worked as an arts administrator for The Phoenix Symphony, writing music education curriculum and leading community engagement programs throughout the region. She holds a degree in music education from Grand Canyon University with a minor in eating tacos.
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Lifestyle & Human Interest