Madeline Stuart hopes to make diversity and disability inclusion a cornerstone of the fashion industry - one photoshoot at a time.
Superstar model Madeline Stuart has walked the ramp at New York, Paris, and London Fashion Week, has modeled for esteemed publications such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and People Magazine - and just happens to have Down syndrome. At just 21 years old, she has become the most famous model with Down syndrome, achieving astonishing success in the short period of time that she's been in the industry. Though she was told she (and those like her) would never be a part of such an industry, she's proven all the haters wrong. Now, she's an active proponent of inclusivity and diversity in fashion.
As many individuals with Down syndrome do, Madeline struggled with her weight for a couple of years. In an industry that's dictated by aesthetic, there is no doubt that that would have been difficult for her. In early 2015, she decided to get healthy so she could pursue her dreams. After losing over 40 pounds, she changed long-held perceptions of what people with Down syndrome and other similar disabilities could achieve - one photoshoot at a time. Her career first took off when she attended a Fashion Parade in the later part of 2015 with her mother Rosanne. Madeline told her mom, "Mom, me model." Though Rosanne knew it would take a lot of effort and hard work, she fully supported her daughter throughout her journey.
Once Madeline lost a little bit more weight, her mother took to social media platforms Instagram and Facebook to create profiles for her up-and-coming model daughter. There, she uploaded "before and after" photos, showcasing her daughter's amazing transformation. As Rosanne expected, her posts immediately went viral. Comments, likes, and shares flooded in from across the country as well as from those around the world. In no time, Madeline had become an internet sensation. The mother-daughter duo kept pursuing her dreams, and it wasn't before long that Madeline started receiving calls to participate in photo shoots, runways, and more. She even signed two modeling deals shortly after.
"She wanted this and she worked hard for it," Rosanne revealed in an interview with The Independent right before her daughter was set to walk the ramp at New York Fashion Week. "I've done everything I can on the business end to get her to this stage. Now it's just her working her charm." For those wondering why Madeline felt so compelled to take up modeling, she revealed, "It’s a way to express myself when words don't always come easy. Plus I get to embrace society and hopefully make people feel more comfortable around people with disabilities."
Madeline and her mom are big on inclusivity in fashion. They're determined to make sure brands, design houses, and events understand the importance of diverse representation. As Meg O’Connell, the president of Global Disability Inclusion, an organization established in order to help companies and brands recognize the competitive advantages and social responsibilities of disability inclusion, explained, "People want to see people like themselves in fashion and advertising and marketing campaigns. People with disabilities buy clothes and cars and houses. They want to be represented, like everyone else; disability has been the forgotten diversity segment." Therefore, Madeline hopes to remind everyone that people with disabilities exist and that they're just like everyone else. Through every ramp she struts down or every magazine cover she poses for, she gets one step closer to her goal.