Thursday, August 20, 2015

What people don't get about the hot model with Down syndrome


As the world cheers on Madeline Stuart, the Australian model with Down syndrome who just announced she'll walk the runway at New York Fashion Week, I'm cheering too. Yet I'm also feeling uneasy, because negative perceptions of people with disability are rearing their heads.

Madeline, 18, is making history in the modeling world, having landed contracts for American activewear line Manifesta and fashion accessories label EverMaya in July. This is big news—models with Down syndrome or any disability are still a rarity, although in recent years a handful have made it onto runways and more catalogs are featuring children with special needs.

Like other parents of kids with special needs, I find Madeline's success heartening and hope-inducing. It's another step toward inclusion of people with disability. It's another step toward showing people that yes, those with Down syndrome are just as worthy of modeling as any other pretty face—and acing it. As Madeline notes in her Facebook bio, "I hope through modeling I can change societies view of people with disabilities, exposure is creating awareness, acceptance and inclusion."

And then I read stuff like this tidbit from Us Weekly: "Such an inspiration! Despite having Down syndrome and other health problems..... Stuart remains completely positive and driven toward her goal." And it's clear to me that some people are floored that anyone with Down syndrome could ever accomplish what Madeline has, as if people with DS can't be talented or capable. And that they are surprised that a teen with special needs could have career aspirations. Also: WTF about the mention of her remaining "completely positive" given that she has Down syndrome? As if having DS is a tragedy.

And then there's this, from PopSugar's list of why they can't wait to see Madeline walk the runway: "#4) She loves her job. Seeing Maddie in action is seriously inspiring." Um, what exactly is so inspiring about a model liking her job? Is it so unusual for models to enjoy the work they do or revel in newfound fame they worked hard to score? Or is it that some people feel inspired by Madeline mostly owing to her disabilities? As in: WHOA! A person with (gasp!) DOWN SYNDROME pulled this off! HOW MIND-BLOWING IS THAT?! They have low (or no) expectations for people with disability because they can only see their disability.

[Deep sigh.]

Yes, yes, in the end what's happening is great. Amazing, to be sure. Madeline is raising a whole lot of awareness. But as the parent of a kid with special needs, I am acutely aware of how people still view him and others like him, and certain reactions to Madeline's story make me yearn for more progressive mindsets. My son's biggest challenges aren't just his own physical and cognitive ones, but the formidable kind posed by a society who largely believes that people with disability lack competence and potential.

I can't wait for the day when success stories like Madeline's won't be news-making because they'll be the norm.

Madeline Stuart is beautiful. She has a gorgeous smile and a captivating personality. She can reflect different moods on camera, she's got The Pout down pat and she makes clothing look good—you know, like models do. Even as people cheer her on for breaking barriers, they should be giving the girl props for achievements she's earned not in spite of her disabilities but because of her abilities.



Images: Instagram/Madeline Stuart

18 comments:

  1. Madeline Stuart is beautiful. She can rock pretty much any type of clothing and has hair the color of a sunset.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YES!!! I love her hair color, too.

      Delete
    2. The whole Madeline Stuart modelling thing is faintly weird. While she's as valuable a human as any other on our earth, she fits exceedingly few people's established standards of beauty. This is no crime, these standards represent superficiality anyway, and don't reflect the worth of a person. But let's not pretend that these superficial standards include anything but very tightly defined attributes, and disablity is not one of them. There are plenty of areas a DS person can shine in, and be aspirational for, but get real: the phony beauty industry is not one of them. Pretending she can participate in this shallow world simply validates that silly world in the first place. Good luck to Madeline, but subscribing to (and participating in) the skin-deep world of fashion is not a development - rather it's an odd triumph of this b.s. world over reality. And it looks ridiculous in an overweening, desperate "I can be part of it too because I say so" way. Far better that Madeline rejected the fashion world all together, and highlighted it's warped way of valuing people by their looks in the first place. Instead she (or rather her parents no doubt) claim they'e changing it for the better by simply saying so. Bizarre. When a DS person fronts the cover of Vogue, I might change my mind, but until then, this situation is a fake, feel-good, one tenth of an inch thick piece of media/twittosphere hype of relevance only to the sad people who strive to be part of a world they're deliberately excluded from. Her parents have confused 'participating' for 'changing'. Have some dignity!

      Delete
  2. I think in a way, having these patronizing comments and articles out there for all to see is a good thing too. It illustrates to everyone that we have a LONG way to go in changing our attitudes about PwD. It documents a time in history where some day soon all these narrow minded people are going to look awfully ignorant in their viewpoints. Remember all the doomsaying articles and comments about marriage equality? Yeah, looks awfully silly, but our children need to know how far we've come, and fought for equality, so I see these articles as history in a way. If that make sense...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know exactly what you mean, a real Catch 22.

      Delete
  3. I kind of have mixed feelings on this. By recognizing that Madeline has Down Syndrome, it shows the need for greater diversity in the fashion world and in media representation. But at the same time, if the fact that she has Down Syndrome is the only thing focused on, the rest of Madeline's identity is ignored. I think people should see a beautiful young woman who happens to have Down Syndrome instead of a young woman with Down Syndrome who happens to be beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Beautifully said, Kathryn. Loved this so much I shared it on my Facebook page.

      Delete
    2. Thank you Ellen. That means so much to me.

      Delete
  4. I'm glad you wrote this, Ellen. Celebration of diversity in mainstream fashion is important, but the "inspiration" talk misses the point completely.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. As the parent of a kid with special needs I'm heartened by what's going because I hope for success and opportunities for Max in the career world (make that, firefighter world). But when people are inspired by what she's achieved only because she has a disability, it's unsettling.

      Delete
  5. Some of the support staff who work with my daughter also work with Madeline. I love the fact she is showing the world that people with disabilities CAN.

    ReplyDelete
  6. As someone with disabilities, I'm torn. When I first heard about Madeline, I didn't know what to think. My first reaction was "Yay!" because it's so important for people to see more people with disabilities succeeding. We CAN succeed just like anyone else. (I've been asked some seriously strange questions about my abilities/how I do things, and it gets real old after awhile).

    Then I became a bit concerned that people might not be able to take Madeline's success for what it is. That they might think that she's only achieved her success because of her disabilities (as if, somehow, the standard is lower for her or she's only gotten her modeling jobs because it makes the people hiring her look good). I certainly don't want anyone to get that idea. She's had her success because she's put in the hard work (and because she's gorgeous!) just like any other model (or employee anywhere, really). It shouldn't be a shocker that she loves her job (I'd hope she does, just like I'd hope that for a model without Down Syndrome). That shouldn't have been the focus. Statements like that are odd to me.

    However, I don't think it's nescessarily bad to say that she is an inspiration. Sadly, people with disabilities aren't in as many print ads, commericals, fashion shows, ect. as non-disabled people. Madeline is. She's (hopefully) showing people (who have any type of struggle, be it a disability or anything else) that what we ARE able to do should be the focus. I don't want her to become some sort of representative for all people with disabilities because she is only herself and it's unfair to expect her to represent everyone, but I do feel like her success is inspirational when shown in a positive light (and not focused on the "can'ts", but the "cans".)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I couldn't agree more, well said. I think there's a difference between her being inspiring for breaking barriers (awesome) and her being inspiring to people who have abysmal standards for people with disability.

      Delete
  7. Oh for goodness sakes, statements like " she loves her job" are just the kind of prattle that fills buzfeed lists every day. If you want this beautiful girl to be viewed like everyone else don't expect the forum that is writing about her to use different standards than it ever does.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You seem to have missed the point. What I took issue with was finding it "inspiring" that she loves her job. If this were a model without disability, they likely wouldn't have found her "inspiring."

      Delete
  8. Honestly, I don't doubt that THEY found it inspiring because she has a disability, but I find it inspiring when anyone loves their job. Passion is contagious no matter where it comes from. So many people complain about work and find the daily grind to be a miserable affair, that it gives me hope when I see someone who is happy in the actual act of making money. So I do find her love for her job inspiring. It gives me hope that when I finally achieve my goals that I too will be in a place where my job makes me happy. Even though I have a disability, I hope my passion then inspires someone else.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree with you... At the same time, as a model, she is still being praised for her genetics.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for sharing!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...