By Lindsay Steele
A few weeks ago, a photo popped up on my Facebook wall. It was of a beautiful young model with flowing, wavy, red hair and a radiant smile. A petite woman with a round face and almond-shaped eyes, she didn’t fit the mold of a typical model, but I couldn’t look away. Madeline Stuart — who has Down syndrome — was simply stunning.
It isn’t every day you see a model with a disability, let alone one that has amassed a following of 400,000 and counting on Facebook. The modeling industry stresses perfection — people like Madeline are somehow deemed less attractive or desirable. Society, for too long, has seen Down syndrome in much the same way. If detected early enough in the pregnancy, about 90 percent of parents will choose to abort a child with Down syndrome.
Madeline says she wants to help people see that persons with Down syndrome have dreams. They are beautiful. They deserve to be seen by society in that way instead of being viewed as broken people.
To prove her point, the 18-year-old Australian doesn’t just show photographs of herself modeling clothing, makeup, accessories and jewelry; she also shares her life with her fans. Fitness is important to Madeline; she shares videos and photographs of herself participating in sports and personal training sessions. In the last year, she made the decision to become healthier and shed more than 40 pounds. She posts pictures of herself with longtime boyfriend, Robbie, who clearly adores her. Commenters to Madeline’s page often share how she’s shattered their preconceived notions about persons with the condition. Every photograph she posts gets a plethora of compliments, whether she’s made up and wearing a ball gown or making a silly face during a sweaty game of cricket. You can follow Madeline’s adventures on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/madelinesmodelling or Instagram https://instagram.com/madelinesmodelling_/.
But Madeline’s goal goes beyond changing society’s view on persons with Down syndrome. More than anything, she wants to promote inclusion. The modeling industry, in general, only celebrates tall, thin women. Madeline says she wants to be a model for all women who don’t fit the ideal. Short, overweight, scarred, developmentally delayed — they all deserve to be celebrated.
Now, the girl whose doctors said she “wouldn’t amount to anything” has two major modeling contracts secured, one with fitness wear company Manifesta and another with everMaya, a high-end accessories brand. Additionally, independent fashion and accessory designers have asked Madeline to model in exchange for free clothing and accessories. All of these companies have seen brand recognition skyrocket, thanks to Madeline’s modeling.
Hopefully, Madeline’s remarkable story can mark the start of a more inclusive modeling industry. Perhaps, more importantly, it can help members of our society learn to value and appreciate people who don’t match up with a narrow view of perfection. Perhaps all women will eventually be seen as God sees them: beautiful.
Next month: Stay tuned for a column about an Iowa teenager with Down syndrome whose life has inspired her family and friends.
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)