Model Madeline Stuart: inspiring & redefining

The first professional model with Down syndrome is opening eyes and changing minds at New York Fashion Week.

Jade Ehlers Photography

Madeline Stuart’s mother, Roseanne, has great perspective on her 19-year-old daughter’s recent success at New York Fashion Week.

“She is walking a catwalk,” Roseanne was recently quoted. “She’s not curing cancer. People say, ‘this must be so amazing for you.’ When they told me my daughter had an 11 percent chance of living when she had open-heart surgery, and she survived, that was amazing. This is New York Fashion Week.”

While it’s true that Madeline, who has Down syndrome, may not be curing cancer, her courage and hard work are breaking barriers and paving paths.

Though designers have increasingly used models with physical disabilities in their shows and ad campaigns, models with intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome, have been a different story. But Madeline’s appearance at New York Fashion Week (now her second) has not only shown an increasing willingness for the fashion industry to take a new look at its ideas of beauty, but it has set “a new standard” for people with intellectual disabilities who “see themselves as being paid sub-minimum wage, of not being successful,” according to Meg O’Connell, president of Global Disability Inclusion.

That echoes what Madeline’s doctors back in Brisbane, Australia, told Roseanne just after Madeline was born. They said Madeline would not live past six or seven and would “never achieve anything.”

Madeline Stuart runs Josefa da Silva catwalk – Art Hearts Fashion NYFW Fall/Winter 2016

Madeline Stuart walks the runway at Josefa da Silva during New York Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2016. Kris Connor | Stringer | Getty Images

Madeline’s first stop in proving them wrong was turning eight. Her next stop was becoming a member of a traveling hip-hop dance troupe that performed at the Pan-Asian Games.

So when Madeline turned to her mother after attending a fashion show and said, “Mum, me model,” Roseanne recognized the possibility for her limelight-loving, “strong-willed” daughter—but not without some work.

Roseanne discussed the healthy eating plan Madeline was already on to keep up with her dance troupe. After losing nearly 40 pounds, Roseanne took Madeline for a test fashion shoot. Madeline loved it—and the camera loved her.

After sharing the “stunning” photos with a private disabilities group on social media and getting their blessing, Madeline shared the photos publicly. They went viral and sparked Madeline’s career, which besides runway work has included her being the “face” of Glossigirl cosmetics.

Now, Madeline’s next stop is Tokyo Fashion Week. Then they’re on to South Africa, Mauritius, Alaska, Rio, Berlin, and beyond.

And all along the way, Madeline’s dream, determination, and world-changing drive inspires us all.

Madeline Stuart walks the runway at Josefa da Silva – Art Hearts Fashion NYFW Fall/Winter 2016

Courtesy of Ftl Moda

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You can follow Madeline on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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