In a lot of ways, Madeline Stuart is just like any other active 18-year-old with energy to burn. The Mount Crosby teenager loves spending time with her friends, dancing to pop music and hip hop, wearing new clothes, and keeping fit. She blushes when you mention her boyfriend.
But Madeline Stuart is not like most 18-year-olds. And it’s not because of her Down Syndrome, or because of a heart condition that required her to undergo open heart surgery when she was just two months old.
Madeline Stuart is different because of what she’s doing despite those disadvantages. She’s not like most 18-year-olds, because most 18-year-olds don’t have 390,000 fans on Facebook, and most of them haven’t just landed professional modelling gigs with American fitness-wear brands, lifestyle labels and make-up companies.
“I never mentioned modelling to Madeline, because it was nothing that ever even crossed my mind,” says Madeline’s mother, Rosanne Stuart. “But we were at the Ekka last year and we were at the Cotton Parade, and she told me she wanted to be a model. She told me she wanted to get up on the stage and model, then and there. And I said to her, ‘Well, honey, you’re going to have to get a lot fitter if you want to be a model’, and that’s where it all started.
“The thing is, we were already on a fitness kick. She was struggling to keep up with dance and a few other things, so she already knew she needed to get fit. It didn’t mean anything to her that she had to do it for another reason as well.”
Madeline committed herself to a healthy lifestyle. She changed her diet and spent even more time dancing and playing the sports she loves. By May this year, she had lost 20 kilograms, and Rosanne booked her in for a professional photo shoot. Then she launched a public Facebook profile to share her pictures, inspire others to get fit, and change society’s view of people with Down Syndrome.image from : http://www.madelinestuartmodel.com/
In the two months since then, Madeline has become an international phenomenon. Most of that is due to her photogenic nature, positive attitude and inspirational story, but it also has a lot to do with her mother’s business acumen. Rosanne, who raised Madeline by herself, had no prior experience in the fashion or PR industries, but she’s taken to them like a duck to water.
“When Madeline went viral, I contacted a few modelling agencies,” Rosanne says. “She hasn’t been able to get a manager, so I decided that until a manager came along, I would do it myself.
“We’ve actually set up our own studio. We have our own photographer and our own make-up artist, and people now sign contracts and send us clothes, and she does a modelling shoot for them. She did a shoot for Manifesta; she did a modelling shoot for everMaya; Triple L Designs; we’ve got one coming up for Pinup Girl. There’s another company we’re working with in New York, and she’s signed as the face of a new make-up company called Glossy Girl in LA. Basically, instead of leaving it up to a modelling agency to organise it, I’ve just organised it.
“I’m a building surveyor and I’ve run my own company for 15 years, so I understand business and I understand advertising to a certain extent. I had no idea about PR, but I’m an intelligent person so it wasn’t hard to figure out that if we put the word out there people would contact us. That’s what’s happening, because they can pay Madeline to do a modelling job and they’re getting worldwide coverage, more coverage than some of the supermodels, because the models they’re using that are six-foot and skinny and a size four… they may have everything that a model has, but they don’t have the same following that Madeline has. So why not use Madeline?”
It’s all a far cry from what Rosanne was told to expect when Madeline was born.
“I was told to expect her never to grow past an eight or nine-year-old, and that she would never achieve anything,” she remembers. “As she got older, we’d go to the park and parents would take their children away. Kids would move away. She’d say, ‘Mum, why?’ And I’d say, ‘Darling, they’ve gone to get some afternoon tea’. She never actually understood that it was because of the discrimination, she just thought they were ready to go home and it was just a coincidence.
“I always just protected her and shielded her from the negativity, because there was a lot of that, and a lot of discrimination. But she’s grown up in a loving environment, so she just loves everyone and thinks everyone’s beautiful.”