Madeline Stuart is a model with Down syndrome who has walked catwalks all over the world. She has appeared in New York Fashion Week, Birmingham, Dubai, and Paris — to name a few. She was nominated for the 2016 Australian of the Year award, has her own clothing line (21 Reasons Why), and is an ambassador for her dance studio in Brisbane. She is a model for healthy diet and exercise after working hard to get in shape to excel in her love for dance. She’s only 21 years old.
Madeline was also born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder in which affected individuals have an extra copy of their twenty-first chromosome. In Western Australia, 93% of pregnancies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome end in abortions. In the U.S., that number is 67%.
The numbers are staggering. It makes you wonder—what would the world be missing if it didn’t have people with Down syndrome? So we asked Madeline, one of the survivors.
“Colour,” Madeline says. “The world is becoming very black and white. People are striving for perfection where only the best is acceptable. If we continue down this road, then we will lose everything that is human.”
This is what makes people like Madeline so inspirational. She has acquired an international voice to speak for the thousands of individuals with Down syndrome who never had a chance to have their own voice.
And her voice is heard loudest strutting down the runway. “I absolutely love it,” she says. “I feel so proud and so happy when I am on a catwalk.” For Madeline, feeling the love from the audience is the “best feeling in the world.”
At the same time, she laments that her biggest challenge has been “acceptance” and facing the rejection that comes with living with a disability. “Unfortunately,” she says, “there has been a lot of rejection along the way, which is hard, but I keep working hard and trying to break down those boundaries.”
“Unfortunately, there has been a lot of rejection along the way, which is hard, but I keep working hard and trying to break down those boundaries.”
One of the struggles she faced was problems with weak muscle tone, which is well-documented within the Down syndrome community. But Madeline is overcoming this too and inspiring people along the way. In 2015, she decided to get healthy to pursue her dreams, and through consistent training, she lost 40 pounds. Her secret? “Try writing down everything you eat, you will be surprised at the amount of food you actually consume. And get a pedometer to count your steps. It will encourage you to move more. Losing weight is not easy, but it is worth it to be fit and healthy to live a longer life.”
Madeline has been using her unique platform to break stereotype after stereotype about individuals with Down syndrome and show the world that different is worthy. She’s successful, happy, and healthy despite her disability. During an interview, Madeline’s mom, Rosanne, commented that through Madeline’s unexpected publicity, “finally the world saw her how I’d always seen her.” When asked about her upcoming documentary to be released in 2018, Madeline said she’s excited that people “will see that having a disability does not stop you from achieving your dreams…people with disabilities are capable and deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.”
“Having a disability does not stop you from achieving your dreams…people with disabilities are capable and deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Madeline’s story reflects what I wish all parents struggling through a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome could hear. Although raising an individual with a disability can mean grieving the loss of dreams of an “ordinary” life for a child, new dreams can be realized with patience and support. Madeline lives a life of extraordinary joy. When asked where it comes from, she told me, “people…kind, loving people, my friends, and my family make me the happiest.” And “the thing I laugh at the most is my mum. She and I enjoy playing jokes on each other.”
Individuals with Down syndrome can live extraordinary lives that give hope to others they never could have reached without their diagnosis. Imagine the plethora of lives that could be changed and the barriers and stereotypes surrounding disability that could be broken if we just gave more people like Madeline a voice. Imagine if so many people like Madeline weren’t silenced before they were even born. “People with Down syndrome judge less, they laugh more, and love stronger,” she says. “Do you really want a world without this colour in it?”
“People with Down syndrome judge less, they laugh more, and love stronger,” she says. “Do you really want a world without this colour in it?”
To follow Madeline’s extraordinary journey, connect with her on Instagram @madelinesmodelling_.
Susannah Maxwell, Carol Bower, and Peter O’Leary. “Impact of prenatal screening and diagnostic testing on trends in Down syndrome births and terminations in Western Australia 1980 to 2013.” Prenatal Diagnosis 2015, 35, 1–7.
Jaime L Natoli, et al. Prenatal Diagnosis of Down Syndrome: A Systematic Review of Termination Rates (1995–2011). Prenat. Diagn., 2012, 32: 142–153. doi: 10.1002/pd.2910.
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