When a mixed-race girl with Down’s syndrome sat down to watch Finland’s Next Top Model, it might have seemed a distant world. But for Maija Mattila, it started the dream that changed her life. Maija watched in awe as the tall, dark, aspiring model walked in front of judges of the reality TV show and posed for the camera. This was Polina Hiekkala, and she was doing everything Maija wanted to do. Maija’s hazel brown eyes light up when she talks about modelling.The young Finnish-Nigerian woman explains how she has watched countless hours of catwalk videos on YouTube since being inspired by Hiekkala in 2018″I started practising my walk at home, in front of the mirror,” she says. Maija, who was born with Down’s syndrome and is now 20, leans gently against her mother and laughs shyly when recalling her early steps towards a modelling career.Her mother, Anna-Erika Mattila, admits it was difficult to support her daughter’s dream in the beginning.”I wanted her to have more realistic ambitions,” she says.
At school, Maija was bullied because of the colour of her skin. Maija’s father is from Nigeria. Her mum is Finnish.”And then there’s Down’s syndrome on top of that,” says her mother.Despite significant hurdles, Maija has pursued her dream. All the way, she has had support from friends and family.For her 18th birthday, a family friend gave Maija a gift voucher for a professional photo shoot. It became another life-changing moment.The shoot was held at the Finnish Broadcasting Company, .