In Madeline’s words …
Who/what inspires me: Mum.
Best advice or motto: Have fun.
Eighteen-year-old fashion model Madeline Stuart has reached a career high. She’s just returned from fashion shows in New York and LA to her Brisbane home. Journalists are clamouring for her time. Ellen DeGenres’ team has been in touch. She’s signed up as the face of GlossiGirl. She has her own handbag line. She’s been nominated for Pride of Australia and young Australian of the Year awards. And the next few months are jammed with red carpets, catwalks and photo shoots, including the crème-de-la crème of fashion – New York Fashion Week. But Madeleine is not like other models. For Madeleine has Down Syndrome. She is winning the hearts of an often shallow industry with a pure beauty that shines from within. And, in the process, she’s turning the traditional notion of beauty on its head.
She is winning the hearts of an often shallow industry with a pure beauty that shines from within.
Madeline had only just been born when her mother Rosanne learned she had Down Syndrome. “I asked the doctor what that meant and all his responses were very negative,” Rosanne says. “I cried for I think about 12 hours and wouldn’t see anyone for the first day and then decided it was going to be ok and we went on from there.”
Not only did Madeline have Down Syndrome, but she also had three holes in her heart and a leaky valve. Rosanne was advised her baby had just an 11 percent chance of survival. But in a style for which Rosanne is renowned, she did away with dramatics and simply got on with the job of being a single parent to the daughter she loved so much.
Passion for fashion
Fast forward 18 years and a bright and bubbly Madeline joined her mum at a fashion show in their home city of Brisbane, Australia. Gazing up at the women on the catwalk Madeline announced she’d like to join them. “I said ‘no you can’t’ and she wasn’t happy with that,” Rosanne says.
Madeline was already working to overcome the weight troubles that can plague people with Down Syndrome to get fit for her dance performances. But the sight of the catwalk renewed her enthusiasm for fitness. Rosanne rewarded Madeline’s efforts with a professional photo shoot and posted the photos online. The images soon went viral and job modelling offers poured in.
Was Rosanne surprised at the attention? “I always thought she could do it,” she says. “I’ve got this daughter that whatever she tries to do she succeeds. She’s not scared of anything. She’ll jump into anything. She wins hearts everywhere she goes. I knew once society got to know her they’d fall in love with her.”
“I knew once society got to know her they’d fall in love with her.”
Society is smitten
And fall in love with her they did. Rosanne recites their schedule for the next few months and it’s jammed with modelling shoots, catwalk events and red carpets in the US, Russia and Europe. But how does Madeline cope with the schedule, the attention? Ask Madeline and she say’s “It’s so much fun.” Her favourite part? “The catwalk.”
“She loves it,” Rosanne says. “She’s the centre of attention. She loves that everyone is smiling and happy. When you do a photo shoot everyone is happy. She’s never seen anything bad about it. And because she’s so beautiful – she’s all high fives and hugs – people go ‘oh my god it’s so amazing to work with a model who’s so kind’. She’s just a really nice person.”
Concept of beauty
Rosanne says she feels privileged to be in a position to make a stance on disabilities, to show the world the beauty behind conditions such as Down Syndrome. She says the modelling industry has been left agog at the beauty that shines through Madeline’s personality.
“When I was young I didn’t realise what beauty was,” Rosanne says. “I was young and insecure and all that. Maddy isn’t like that. Now I know beauty is about the way you act and the way you treat people and usually people don’t realise that until they are in their forties. Madeline never suffered from that. She can’t differentiate between someone who is 200 kilograms overweight and someone with a so called perfect figure – Madeline doesn’t see that. People with Down Syndrome they don’t understand age, they don’t understand height, they don’t understand weight, all they understand is personality. I think that’s why she’s doing so well – because people can see that.”
Asked what beauty means to her, Madeline replies, “Loving each other and being kind.” No wonder she is stealing hearts.
“… beauty is about the way you act and the way you treat people.”
Despite Madeline’s love of modelling Rosanne says they’ll be quick to drop it if Madeline’s attitude changes. “I have a rule if it’s not fun, we don’t do it,” Rosanne says. “I tell them treat her like a niece – lots of high fives, lots of smiles – because it’s not about the modelling it’s about getting the word out about inclusion and disabilities. If Madeline doesn’t want to do it, we just don’t do it.”
So what does the future hold for this Brisbane model? “I have no idea,” her mum says. “And I don’t care. It would be lovely for Madeline to keep modelling and have this excitement but we were happy before this started and we’re going to be happy after it’s finished. I just want her to have a lovely life and that what’s happening. So if she goes to New York Fashion Week and hates it, it’s too much, we’ll just come home. Even though it’s very important to us to get the word out about disability and inclusion it’s not as important as Madeline’s happiness.”
Having watched her daughter from the sidelines Rosanne says even she is amazed at how far she’s come. “She went over (to New York the first time) a little girl and came back a professional model,” Rosanne says. “I never thought my daughter could be a professional. She has an intellectual disability and I didn’t think she’d ever have a real job. But when she gets in front of that camera, I am so proud of her. I’m amazed. I want to scream it from the rooftops – my daughter actually understands about business, she understands the fact it’s a job, it’s serious. Even though she enjoys it she takes it seriously. Maddy has always been the jokester, the cuddler, the giggler, but she’s proven to me she really is a professional. I’m sorry I’m going on but I’m so proud of her.”
“I’m also proud of the fact she’s so kind and she always wants to help people pack up their makeup and thank them at the end of photo shoot. They all say to me ‘we deal with other models and put up with how rude they are to us’. But dealing with Madeline they all say what an amazing experience it was. We’ve made some really good friends. It’s just so beautiful.”
Find out more …
Follow Madeline’s success on her social media channels:
Madeline is also raising money for a dance group for people with disabilities, for which she is ambassador. You can contribute here: http://www.gofundme.com/danceensemble