Mock my pants, not my sister

by Boston Children's Hospital staff on July 18, 2011

The following was written by Brian Skotko , MD, MPP, a Physician at Children’s Hospital Boston’s Down Syndrome Program. It’s in response to a feature in GQ magazine that used insensitive language.

Brian Skotko and his sister, Kristin

On July 15, John B. Thompson of GQ magazine slammed Bostonians as the worst dressed in the nation.  Evidently, our beloved Beantown is actually a “bad-taste storm sewer” where all the worst fashion ideas come to “stagnate and putrefy.”  He further decries, “Boston suffers from a kind of Style Down Syndrome , where a little extra ends up ruining everything.”

Go ahead, GQ, and mock my blue whale-emblemed Nantucket-red pants. Laugh if you want at the loud argyles that I prefer to wear with my black suit. I don’t even care if you dismiss the sexy pink polka-dotted tie that I like to wear with my blue-checkered shirt in clinic. But, whatever you do, do not mess with my sister.

My sister, Kristin, has Down syndrome, and let me explain what “Style Down Syndrome” really is.  “Style Down Syndrome” is smiling when everyone else prefers to frown. It’s spending three summers, in sheer determination, learning to ride a bike because you want the freedom to be like everyone else. It’s singing tunes from Grease at the top of your lungs with your friends. It’s celebrating a third-place victory at a swim meet with as much gusto as the gold medalist.

Style Down Syndrome is strong-willed, persevering, and forgiving—because it has to be.

People with Down syndrome are ridiculed on a daily basis. Although not as obvious as GQ’s sport, children with Down syndrome do not always get invited to birthday parties just because they have Down syndrome. Young adults, freshly minted from high school, sometimes have trouble finding post-secondary opportunities. And, adults with Down syndrome are often the first to be fired when the economy tanks.

All of this comes at a time when people with Down syndrome are achieving previously unimagined successes. They are graduating, working, living and loving within our communities.  So, why do people underestimate their abilities?  It must be because they do not know someone with Down syndrome. Because, if they did, they would come to appreciate the life lessons that accompany their extra chromosome.

If my friends who are black were mocked, they would not take it. If my friends who are gay were slurred, they would not take it. My 400,000 fellow Americans with Down syndrome have been cheapened, and I will not take it. I invite GQ magazine to introduce its readers to real people with Down syndrome through the My Great Story campaign of the National Down Syndrome Society.

* Editor’s note: Mock my pants not my sister has created a lot of dialogue on the subject of advocacy for the Down syndrome community as well as the use of insensitive language, and resulted in plenty of mainstream media attention to the issue. To date the blog has been referenced in the Washington Post, Boston Business Journal, Boston Magazine, the Boston Globe and FOX News. To learn more about the many social and mainstream media platforms Dr. Skotko’s post has influenced, please click here.


  • Sharon Willits

    As the grandmother of an 18 yr old autistic Grandson.  I think that GQ’s article will generate a lot of negative sentiment as it should.  GQ has a lot to learn !!! 

  • 3kidtalk

    What an awesome family!  I love this man’s attitude!

  • Ann Mallin

    I was saddened by GQ’s comment about persons with Down Syndrome, but very touched by Dr. Skotko’s response. As a mother of a daughter with Down Syndrome, I hope that others learn to be respectful of all members of our society, especially those who are least able to defend themselves. Our thanks to Dr. Skotko for his articulate and thoughtful reply.

  • Mnems_mom

    I wish there was a “Love” button for this!

  • Bev Couzens

    I love your response, and your work Brian.  My son has Down Syndrome and every day my life is richer as a result.

    Keep up the fantastic work you do


  • Norepliesplease

    Did it occur to anyone that the GQ author may not have been referring to Down’s Syndrome at all? Maybe he was coining the phrase “style down” vs “style up,” as an appearance sydrome. When people want to refer to something as being below par,  they do not generally use a diagnostic term like Down’s Syndrome. They usually simply state that something is ‘retarded.’ I am not defending that unkindness, simply observing that that is a common term. I do not think this was a reatardation reference, but let’s let the author speak for himself.

  • Karly

    thankyou for an awesome response to something that should never have been said let alone thought of!! We need to speak up about these things. Thankyou!!! 
    I see people in the store all the time they stop me and ask about my daughter, but a lot of the time I don’t think they realize she has down syndrome, one lady even said once “OH!! I need to get me one of those” and I thought…she has no idea what she just said. lol to me I thought, really you need a child with down syndrome. of course if i said something like that people would not kno what to say, my opinion is yeah you probably do…there are a LOT pf people out there that I think could benefit from having a child with DS. What a joy they are…oh some people just have no idea!!! We have been through great hardship with my daughter’s birth and surprise diagnosis, and my being injured during her birth…we’ve had one tough year…bt one thing remains sure, God has brought us through it all …and she is worth all the pain and suffering I have been through…We have her…she is alive, we could have lost her…

    I am in the process of trying to write about our story, it’s been tough with both of our recovery’s and just dealing with all the emotions…

    here’s my blog if you’d like to take a look hoping to have her birth story up soon.

    like the name. ;) 

  • Cmsweeney

    Thank You Dr. Skotko!!! My brother Dana really became a big part of my life as my parents became seriously ill and died. Dana is an ever present part of my families life that sings joyously to the heavens !! ( as my brother waves to our parents every time he sees the sun; as I told him that that the sun was mom and dads way of sending their love into our hearts) Dana is an amazing and loving man in our families lives:)

  • childrens trousers

    What you did was lovely and inspiring. And an eye catching title you have there. Thank you for sharing your story about your sister.

  • leximagnusson

    RICK FREAKING SMITH linked to this post 15 TIMES!  this is not about YOU!

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  • Tom R. — dad

    Like your pants…
    Love what you have done for the Down Syndrome community.  The commuity that embraces and loves each person with that one extra chromosome.  The community that appreciates differences in people.  The community sets no limits, yet has high hopes for the opportunities that the future brings. Keep up the great work.

  • Missy Newcomer

    Right on Dr. Skotko!  My son has a big sister with Down syndrome, and he is already a wonderful advocate for her.  I am glad to know he will be more sensitive to those around him, with and without special needs, because of his life with his sister.  Too bad the guy at GQ missed out on those life lessons.  His loss! 

  • Roger Woodcock

    You know you are a sad and self centered person who doesn’t have a clue. Go back into your Parents basement.

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