Madeline Stuart’s mother fondly describes her 19-year-old’s swift rise to fame in an unfazed, but suitably proud manner.
“She’s certainly never lacked in the confidence department. The only thing that’s changed now is that she assumes everybody just knows her when she enters a room,” Rosanne Stuart laughingly told The Huffington Post Australia from their family home in Brisbane.
Last year, Madeline became the second model in the world with Down Syndrome to walk at New York Fashion Week, joining a relatively small pool of Australian models to have had the privilege.
In the process, she made international headlines and ignited a conversation about disability inclusion in the modelling industry.
Given diversity is something the industry lacks, despite the steady growth of 'plus-size' models, Madeline challenged its beauty standards by adding a point of difference in a landscape of same-same faces.
With more than 127, 000 followers on Instagram and a level of fame that results in her being stopped at airports for photos, Madeline has become an aspirational role model for not only disabled people and their families, but anyone chasing a dream.
Since her New York Fashion Week debut (it should be mentioned it was the third time Madeline had graced a catwalk, ever) she’s landed multiple ad campaigns and editorials. Her latest, a bridal magazine shoot where she modelled a series of gowns at a popular wedding venue in Northern Virginia.
But Madeline has another passion: dance. And between flying to international locations for various shoots has been working on a project close to her heart.
Together with her mother, and family friend, Angela Witcher, the trio started a dance school called InsideOutside Dance Ensemble for people with and without disabilities. Classes are free for those with a disability and promote a nurturing, rather than competitive framework.
“We only launched a few months ago but the growth has been phenomenal,” Stuart said.
Stuart said they’ve had to start a Go Fund Me page to assist with funding due to the positive response.
Stuart, who stepped away from full-time work as Madeline’s career took off last year, said starting a dance school was something she’d always wanted to do.
“It’s a very happy environment with music and friends. It’s not a dance class with lots of yelling,” Stuart said.
As the dance school’s ambassador, Madeline attends five lessons a week while juggling her modelling commitments and newfound popularity (“when we were in Sweden, she was treated like royalty at all the schools we visited”).
South African designer, Hendrik Vermeulen, Rosanne Stuart, Madeline Stuart (front center) and Jean-Daniel Meyer-Vermeulen backstage during Spring 2016 New York Fashion Week.
Though perhaps her most significant achievement yet has been the widespread effect of her positive, can-do attitude.
It’s taught people how to be inspired and believe in themselves. But more importantly, that having a disability doesn’t exclude you from having a dream.
As Madeline explains in her Facebook biography, “I hope through modelling I can change society’s view of people with disabilities, exposure is creating awareness, acceptance and inclusion.”
So what’s next for the 19-year-old from the sunshine state?
“We have Caspian Fashion Week at the end of April,” Stuart said.
Well there you go. Clearly, there is no stopping this young woman.