Tall, skinny and seemingly flawless models traditionally dominate the catwalks, but times appear to have changed as designers welcome diversity when it comes to featuring their collections.
Madeline Stuart, an 18-year-old model with Down syndrome, will be one of the faces of such diversity. The teen will strut at the biannual New York Fashion Week on Sept. 13, becoming the second model with Down syndrome who will participate in the fashion event after actor Jamie Brewer of American Horror Story also walked the runway earlier this year.
Stuart will walk the runway modeling clothes for FTL Moda, an Italian fashion label, which featured models with disabilities such as those in wheelchairs and with an amputation in its show at the NYFW in February. The brand now works with the Christopher Reeve Foundation to show that fashion is not bounded by confines.
Madeline's mother, Rosanne Stuart, said that it did not actually surprise her when she learned that her daughter will be part of the New York Fashion Week.
"There hadn't been anyone who chased this dream, whereas Madeline really chased it. She wanted this and she worked hard for it. I've done everything I can on the business end to get her to this stage. Now it's just her working her charm," Rosanne Stuart said.
Besides modeling clothes in the catwalk, Madeline is also the face for a new line of handbags. EverMaya even has a new bag called "The Madeline" named after the teenager.
While Madeline appears to be on her road to fame, her mother says she is still an average teen that plays sports, hangs out with friends and chills on the iPad.
Down syndrome is the most common form of chromosomal disorder affecting about one child per 1,000 births worldwide. Despite the number of individuals with the condition, studies have shown that ignorance and intolerance toward individuals who have intellectual disabilities remain prevalent.
In the U.S., more than 20 percent of the population thinks that people who have intellectual disabilities should not be allowed to vote and 38 percent feel that in some instance, using the word "retarded" is acceptable.
Madeline hopes that her career in modeling can change how people perceive those with disabilities. Rosanne said that her daughter's career is not just about taking pictures. She hopes it can also spread a message of acceptance.