Mikayla Holmgren talks about breaking barriers for people with Down syndrome: ‘Everyone deserves to be celebrated’

Hunter McGrady as told to Kerry Justich
·2-min read

All Worthy with Hunter McGrady is Yahoo Life’s interview series in which model and body positive advocate Hunter McGrady speaks with celebrities, influencers and friends about equality, confidence, curves and so much more.

Making my Sports Illustrated Swimsuit debut in 2017 changed my life, as I became a household name for the growing body positive movement. But with progress comes pressure, especially when considered a "first" within an industry of exclusivity and limited representation — something that Mikayla Holmgren is no stranger to — and certainly not fearful of.

The 26-year-old tells me that she's a model, dancer and activist with "a little bit of Down syndrome on the side" who is working to break boundaries when it comes to representation of people with disabilities in mainstream media. She's already made history as the first woman with Down syndrome to compete at the 2017 Miss Minnesota USA pageant, sharing that beauty is "inside out."

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"It comes from inner beauty," Holmgren says of the confidence and beauty that she radiated on stage. "It's from inside out and you know it's something that's beautiful. Make it yourself and you're confident and you're showing your muscles, and you'll be so strong when you do it."

It's for this reason that I was enamored by Holmgren even before our conversation, as I'd seen a number of interviews she's done where you can tell that she is fearless. More importantly, she understands that all people are worthy of representation, which I myself had to believe through my journey of becoming a plus-size model.

"Everyone deserves to be celebrated," Holmgren reminds me. And while labels, like the ones that both she and I have faced while chasing our dreams, seem to make change more digestible within our society, Holmgren refuses to be put into a box.

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"It's just more bringing awareness," she says of the recent headlines surrounding her efforts to become Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's first model with Down syndrome. "I just like people more being in groups, being receptive and being more an advocate for those with special needs and just going after your dreams, to set your goals."

As a part of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit family myself, I can't think of somebody more deserving of the platform and the ability to share all that she has to say — not to mention her drive to seek out the opportunity herself.

"Put your mind to it. Just do it," Holmgren says.

Video produced by Katarina Vasquez

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