Chris Garafola is a well-known male model with tens of thousands of followers on social media, listed as one of Harper Bazaar’s hottest guys to follow on Instagram. But Garafola is not just a pretty face — he also has a heart of gold for his big sister, Brittany, who has Down syndrome. Last October, he threw Brittany an incredible birthday party. People Magazine spotlighted the surprise, and recently shared a video — which quickly went viral.
The video, which had millions of views and thousands of shares, followed Garafola’s birthday surprise for Brittany. The siblings grew up in Vermont, where Brittany wanted to do whatever her little brother did. So when Garafola became a model, Brittany wanted to do the same thing. “When I started to show her the commercials or magazines I was in, she would tell me she wanted to do it, too,” he said in an interview with People. “But I told her that she was already a model—I was trying to be like her!” Brittany continued to bring it up, though, and so for her birthday, he arranged a special party. He gathered photographers, videographers, stylists and make-up artists together, all of whom volunteered their time, so she could have her very own professional photo shoot. Garafola then told her that they were going for a walk. “It was killing me seeing the look on her face!” he recalled. “She looked at me like, ‘Come on, man, aren’t we going to do something?’”
When they finally arrived at the location of Brittany’s photo shoot, she was thrilled. “She started jumping up and down and giving me a hug and crying,” he said. “It was really emotional.” She spent the next few hours getting the celebrity treatment from her hair and makeup specialists before posing in designer outfits.
“She was a supermodel and she knew it, it was her day to be a real professional model,” he said. “She did a lot better than many of the models that I’ve worked with, I was very impressed.”
Garafola is clearly proud of his sister, listing himself as “Brittany’s brother” on his Instagram page, and featuring photos and videos of her alongside his modeling pics. “I always get teary eyed posting photos of my sister — too beautiful for my little heart to handle,” he wrote in a recent post. “Woke up the other day feeling a little defeated with a lack of clarity on some things, so I called my mom. Before I got off the phone, she said, ‘Brittany wants to talk to you.’ Before handing her the phone, I heard her prefacing to Brit that her brother was feeling sad today. Brit picks up the phone and says, ‘Hi baby brother, just kiss your girlfriend and relax. Too-da-loo’ then hands the phone back to mom.”
I always get teary eyed posting photos of my sister — too beautiful for my little heart to handle. Woke up the other day feeling a little defeated with a lack of clarity on some things, so I called my mom. Before I got off the phone, she said, "Brittany wants to talk to you." Before handing her the phone, I heard her prefacing to Brit that her brother was feeling sad today. Brit picks up the phone and says, "Hi baby brother, just kiss your girlfriend and relax. Too-da-loo” then hands the phone back to mom ❤️ #TeamGarafola
Garafola told People that he hopes his photos and videos of Brittany can help raise awareness and acceptance of people with disabilities. “I want people to question what they think is beautiful, and realize that everybody should have the same opportunities in this life no matter where they’re born or what they’re born with,” he said.
People with Down syndrome face serious discrimination, especially before they are born. Multiple countries, like Iceland and Denmark, are on a mission to eradicate Down syndrome, while in the United States, it’s estimated that 67% of babies diagnoses prenatally with Down syndrome are aborted. But the reality, as people like the Garafola siblings show, is that life with Down syndrome is happy. 99% of people with Down syndrome report being happy with who they are and with their lives; 90% of parents say that they love their child with Down syndrome and have a more positive outlook because of them. Siblings overwhelmingly report that they love their sibling with Down syndrome, and are better people because of them.
Ableism (discrimination against those who are differently-abled) is still thriving today, and often with fatal consequences. But people like Chris Garafola and his sister Brittany show how much richer life can be when we love without boundaries.