Teen on a Mission to Change the Way People Define Beauty

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“Exposure will help to create acceptance,” 18-year-old Madeline Stuart writes of her mission to show the world how people with Down syndrome are just as stunning as the ranks of models that she hopes to join. (Photo: Madeline getting Downs to modelling/Facebook).

It all started with a cartwheel. Madeline Stuart, 18, was having trouble with the move in her hip-hop dance class because of extra weight she’d put on. So about a year and a half ago, the teen, from Brisbane, Australia, cut out junk food and began swimming five times a week, all while continuing her other activities including cheerleading, basketball, and cricket with the Special Olympics. 

That’s right — the athlete who has since shed an impressive 40 pounds — has a disability: Down syndrome. But instead of slowing her down, Stuart is motivated to do more than the average teenager. Since she lost weight, she gained so much confidence that she wants to get into modeling — specifically to show the world that beauty comes in all different shapes. 

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(Photo: Madeline getting Downs to modelling/Facebook).

Maddy, as she’s nicknamed, writes on her 100,000-likes-and-counting Facebook page that “modelling will help change societies view of people with Down Syndrome (sic),” and adds, “exposure will help to create acceptance.” 

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Unconditional acceptance is something the aspiring star, who has so far been snapped for the clothing label Living Dead, has gotten since day one from her mother, Roseanne Stuart. The proud mom told the Daily Mail’s Australian edition that she has always made a point of telling her daughter “every day how amazing, funny, smart, beautiful, wonderful she is.” 

Posing professionally would just let others in on the secret. “I think it is time people realized that people with Down syndrome can be sexy and beautiful and should be celebrated,” she says, acknowledging that attitudes have thankfully already shifted considerably for the better. 

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(Photo: Madeline getting Downs to modelling/Facebook).

“Things were a lot different 18 years ago,” Roseanne told Buzzfeed. (The Stuarts did not immediately return Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment). “I remember having her in a [stroller] when she was a baby and small-minded people telling me she should not be out in public….But things are changing every day and people are more accepting of what they don’t understand yet.” 

What Maddy ultimately wants, says her mom, is “to change the way people discriminate against disability.” What does her mom hope will happen? “I want people to stop saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ when I tell them my daughter has Down syndrome because it’s a very naive statement,” Roseanne says. “Maybe Maddy can stop people feeling that way. If the average person could see the beauty Maddy has inside, how loving and caring she is and if that is what people measured beauty on, then most of the models in the world would have Down syndrome.” 

The teen has already made her mark no matter what happens next, Kristie Hagen of the National Down Syndrome Society tells Yahoo Parenting. “When people like Maddy get out and show who they are, and that their ability is more important than any disability they may have, it brings awareness to fact that people should not be limited by what others think of them.” 

Society, Hagen adds, “has a very limited view of what is popular in beauty and Maddy is being brave by showing that beauty isn’t always what is expected, if you will. She’s breaking the mold and showing us that beauty comes from the inside, which is amazing.” Picturing Stuart at a photo shoot isn’t even a difficult leap to make, Hagen adds, “because let’s be honest, Maddy’s gorgeous.” 

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(Photo: Madeline getting Downs to modelling/Facebook).

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