In a recent interview with Teen Vogue, model and fashion designer Madeline Stuart said that her “biggest dream” is to walk a Victoria’s Secret runway. Madeline is considered to be the world’s first fashion model with Down syndrome and has changed modeling for disabled people across the globe. She’s a woman of many firsts and could be the first woman with Down syndrome to model for a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
“I hope to one day walk for a really amazing designer like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, or Versace,” she said. “My biggest dream is to walk for Victoria’s Secret.”
Since Madeline started modeling, fashion labels have opened up their shows to people with all kinds of disabilities. Madeline is a huge part of that, especially as someone with an intellectual disability. People with Down syndrome are often treated like they are children, and even someone as famous as Madeline has a hard time getting others to take her seriously.
“One of the biggest challenges has been that some people don’t see me as a professional,” Madeline said to Teen Vogue. “I am a professional and have worked very hard to be one, so it is hard to then be treated differently.”
It’s so bad that some companies don’t even think they should have to pay her for the professional service she provides.
“Another challenge has been receiving financial gain from all the work I do,” she said. “Unfortunately, people think including me is payment enough; fortunately, my manager is there to negotiate for me.”
Madeline was first inspired to become a model in 2014 when she attended a fashion show in Brisbane, Australia. Her mother helped her set up a photo shoot, and Madeline posted the photos online. The post went super viral, reaching 7.2 million people in just a few days.
It wasn’t long before people started calling her with job offers. She signed her first two modeling contracts in 2015 with fitness-wear brand Manifesta and handbag brand EverMaya. She appeared in Vogue in 2016.
Madeline has also worked six seasons of the New York Fashion Week catwalk, which has become one of her favorite things.
“I love walking at NYFW as it was not only my first big runway show 3 years ago but also because it now feels like home when I’m there,” said Madeline. “I feel so comfortable and always love the experience and can’t wait to go back each time.”
Madeline has been a major game changer for an industry that long featured only a very specific type of body. It was difficult enough to see plus-size women on a runway. Disabled models were virtually unheard of.
Thanks to Madeline, NYFW has featured multiple models with Down syndrome.
“I’ve seen a few other girls with Down syndrome come to New York Fashion Week to model which is very exciting for me because it shows that I have changed the way the fashion industry views diversity,” said Madeline. “I’m extremely proud of that and am happy that other girls can follow their dreams, too.”
Madeline has also helped to normalize and demystify Down syndrome. The condition is the most common chromosomal disorder — one in every 700 babies is born with it. This amounts to about 6,000 new people with Down syndrome each year.
The syndrome is caused by the appearance of an extra or partial extra chromosome in the individual’s genetic code. This results in a set of atypical physical features as well as a tendency to learn differently than those without this condition.
None of this means that people with Down syndrome are incapable or childlike or should be kept from the joys of life that the rest of us get to experience. The only reason that women with this condition haven’t been professional models is because others have refused to acknowledge that they could be.
Thankfully, this is beginning to change because of the efforts of disabled models like Madeline. We’ve seen models in wheelchairs, models with prosthetic limbs, autistic models, and models with chronic illnesses. All have been beautiful and fantastic.
There’s still, however, plenty of work to do.
“I would like to continue to make the fashion industry more diverse,” said Madeline. “Although it has come a long way, it still has a long way to go.”
Madeline also had advice for other disabled women trying to break into the modeling industry.
“I would say they should prepare to work extremely hard and prepare to be rejected,” she said. “I would tell them to be strong, to never give up and to try harder when they get knocked down.”
For now, we hope Victoria’s Secret recognizes Madeline’s incredible talent and signs her for its next fashion show. Models are already starting to get confirmed for the upcoming event. Spread the word, and maybe Victoria’s Secret will hear us!