“The worst thing you can do is give up when things start to get hard.” These words of wisdom come from Madeline Stuart, the 21-year-old model from Brisbane, Australia who has become a worldwide sensation as the first professional model with Down Syndrome.
She first started making headlines in 2015 when her mom Rosanne created social media accounts to document Madeline’s weight loss journey and her dream of becoming a model and dancer. A “before and after” photo soon went viral and, as they say, the rest is internet-breaking history.
Today, Madeline Stuart is changing our ideas of beauty and spreading her message of inclusion whether she’s strutting down the catwalk, appearing on television, sharing inspirational workout posts on Instagram or posing for photo shoots in the biggest fashion magazines. (Hello, Vogue Australia!) She even represented her state in cricket and basketball at the Special Olympics.
We caught up with Madeline who has been busy traveling around the world with her mom to find out what she’s up to next and how she can inspire us to follow our own dreams no matter how challenging the path might seem.
I love your hashtag #breakingthemouldtour because you truly are breaking the mold of the world’s idea of a supermodel. Tell me about walking the runway at London Fashion Week and NYFW.
This season I walked in London and Paris. After walking in New York the last five seasons I thought it was time to try the European market and it was fantastic. I absolutely love London and it was so great to see such a diverse culture. I believe the UK is far ahead of a lot of other countries in this area and it was so refreshing.
Paris was also amazing — this was my second season in Paris and this time I walked for a designer called Alliera whose clothes are amazing. I think my favorite moment was when I walked onto the catwalk in Paris and the whole audience applauded. It made me feel very special and it gave me hope that Paris will also become more diversified as time goes on.
You have nearly 200,000 followers on Instagram where you share many fun moments and experiences. How has social media changed your life?
Social media is amazing, it has taught me a lot of things and it has opened up a lot of doors for me. I do find Instagram a lot more difficult than Facebook as you have to tell a story with a photo where on Facebook I can share all sorts of things including links to articles. Facebook is what has really changed my career as I have over 700,000 followers there and a lot of people work with me as it gives them a lot of publicity.
You are in great physical shape, but you were 40 pounds heavier back in 2014. Was it a particular moment or event that made you want to lose weight or was it a gradual change?
Actually I remember the day vividly, it was summer and very, very hot. I was at dance with my friends and they were doing a really fast routine and we had been going for about 40 minutes and I was really struggling to keep up.
I just could not keep going and it made me very upset as we were getting ready for a performance and I did not want to let anyone down. I became overwhelmed and I ran out to my mother crying. She consoled me and asked me what was the matter.
When I told her she said that if I wanted to feel healthier I would have to get fitter and lose some weight and that is what I did, right then and there I knew my life needed to change so I started my fitness routine. Three years later I feel amazing and I have lost 50 pounds to be exact.
What changes did you make to get healthier? How do you feel now vs how you felt back then?
The biggest change is eating healthy, eating smaller portions and exercising about 12 hours a week. I am very active. Before I would eat much larger portions.
For example, in the afternoon I would have two full sushi rolls and now I will just have one or instead I will eat fruit. I would also have a lot of junk food like fries and burgers, but now I never have this and much prefer a salad.
I feel amazing as a result and am much more active and never feel uncomfortable, breathless or tired from just doing regular activities.
What advice can you give to those who are struggling with weight or making poor food choices?
Losing weight is not easy but it is worth it to be fit and healthy to live a longer life. If you have not got a medical condition that makes you put on weight then you just have to exercise more and eat less.
A lot of people have said to me over the past few years, oh I have tried, but I just can’t lose weight. Unfortunately, a lot of the time if you are not losing weight it’s just because you are eating more calories than you burn, so you need to move more and eat less.
Try writing down everything you eat — you will be surprised at the amount of food you actually consume. Get a pedometer to count your steps, it will encourage you to move more
As I said, it’s not easy but you will feel great when you get fitter. As far as food goes, instead of choosing food by taste, try actually thinking about how your body will feel about eating it, not just your taste buds. If you eat nuts and fruit you will feel amazing and your body will thank you.
You are constantly traveling the world — what has travel taught you?
That there are so many different cultures and people. You need to be careful how you word things sometimes as something that is perfectly fine to say in Australia may be taken as an insult in another country.
Also, you need to ask how a person would like to be referred to. In the States, you refer to a person of color as an African-American. But in London, a person with dark skin would be referred to as a black Englishman. I find this really hard as the word ‘black’ to me should be put in the same category as the N word or the R word.
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Where does your sense of confidence come from?
I see a very happy person who I love deeply, someone that has fun and is not scared of living life. My confidence comes from believing in myself and my mum taught me that.
Everyone has moments when they aren’t feeling very beautiful or very accomplished. What do you do during those moments? How do you pick yourself up when you’re feeling down?
I never feel like this, it is just something I don’t do. Sometimes life is boring and sometimes it is fast paced, but I always know I am loved and safe.
I don’t look at people as though outside beauty is important and I never look at myself as if my outside beauty is important. People think I am fit so I can be a model, but I am fit so I can have a healthy life and I eat healthy food because I want my body to feel good.
Beauty is about what your heart and personality is, how you treat others and the world. I am always good to people so I always feel good about myself. If you are feeling down, go and turn on your favorite music and help a friend in need or volunteer at a shelter for the homeless or for animals. You will feel amazing after that.
What do you want others to know about people with Down Syndrome and other disabilities?
That even if you have a disability it does not mean you do not have feelings. We all have the same dreams. Just like you want to be loved and accepted, I want to feel that way.
Next time you see someone with a disability, say hi. I know this may feel uncomfortable the first time if you have never hung out with someone like me, but I can promise you that you will have a great time and the person with the disability will probably appreciate the company.
Tell me about your own fashion line 21 Reasons Why.
The number 21 in the name of my brand comes from two factors: the 21st chromosome that represents Down Syndrome and the fact that everyone looks forward to turning 21 and it being a happy exciting time of your life.
The second part of name, Reasons Why, is all the reasons we can be better people, more inclusive, more loving, kinder to ourselves and others.
There are always many reasons why we can be better and evolve to improve ourselves, our planet and the love we show to others.
21 Reasons Why started as everyone kept loving the style of clothes I wore and kept asking me where to get them. It seemed natural and exciting to start my own clothing line to express myself and my love for fashion.
Designing is fun. I sit down with my mum and we talk about what I love and how we can make clothes that people will also love.
Do you have a favorite quote or motto that you live by?
Life is not about the destination, life is about the journey itself. Don’t always wait to be happy, be happy now.
What do you say to women out there who are afraid to follow their dreams?
Work hard and don’t give up. Understand that you might get rejected, but everyone does at times. The worst thing you can do is give up when things start to get hard.
I have a lot of friends that start something and if they don’t succeed straight away they just move onto something else then something else and so on, so they never finish anything.
If you never finish anything you can never expect to succeed. But most of all, never stop believing in yourself and loving yourself.
For more life inspo, check out Madeline Stuart’s official website.