A MODEL ROLE MODEL
By ANDREW MCGINN firstname.lastname@example.org
The image is perfect.
As it probably should be, considering that it was taken to sell Nike products — and if the Fortune 500 sportswear company knows how to do anything, it’s how to move product.
The model, with her striking azul eye shadow that matches the sky behind her, conveys exactly what Nike undoubtedly hoped to say: that, in a pair of new Nike Go FlyEase sneakers, you, too, will feel as light as air.
That the model doesn’t have a right hand is beside the point.
Nike is among a growing number of major companies making the realization that 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. lives with a disability — maybe ad campaigns should start reflecting that.
“In the media, you rarely ever see anybody with disabilities or physical differences,” said Madisyn Taute, 24, a Greene County native who is in the vanguard of body-positive models coming to an Instagram account, website, store display or magazine near you.
Taute is the model pictured wearing the Go FlyEase sneakers, Nike’s first hands-free sneaker.
It’s actually hard to say what’s more improbable: that a 2015 graduate of Greene County High School is now modeling for such household names as Nike, Target and Gatorade, or that a model with a congenital limb difference is suddenly in demand.
Whatever it is, Taute has found herself in just the right place at just the right time in history.
“The time is now to include all types of diversities and include all types of bodies. It’s been a long time coming,” said Taute, speaking recently from San Diego.
Taute initially ventured to California to attend San Diego State University, and she graduated in December 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in child and family development. She has been working as a nanny for the past two years, and had hoped to teach English in Thailand — a plan derailed by the pandemic.
But over the past year, as more companies seek to embrace and reflect inclusivity, Taute’s true purpose for going to California is becoming all the more clear.
“I’m still just in shock,” confessed mom Dawn (Pope) Taute, a Jefferson native whose husband Chad is president of Quad County Ag in Paton. “I was secretly hoping she’d head out there for college, but then come back closer to home.”
“She’s doing amazing things, so I can’t be selfish,” Dawn Taute added. “I knew there was a purpose for her, and she’s opening eyes.”
Madisyn Taute was born with amniotic band syndrome, a well-known but nevertheless rare condition in which thin strands of tissue known as amniotic bands form inside the placenta’s inner layer. The bands can then become tangled around the developing fetus, affecting growth of certain body parts — arms and legs, typically.
“Basically,” Madisyn Taute explained, “I was born without the five fingers on my right hand.”
She still has wrist mobility, which aids in her ability to practice yoga and hone her skills as a rock climber. Taute took up rock climbing in the past year as well, and already will be competing in June at the U.S. Paraclimbing National Championships in Salt Lake City.
Combining her twin new callings — modeling and rock climbing — Taute recently did a climbing video for the California-based apparel company Patagonia.
For reasons she didn’t completely understand, Taute always felt drawn to California, going so far in eighth grade as to make the following prediction in a memory book: “I’m going to live a life in California.”
She had never even been there.
When it came time to apply for college, Taute applied to five colleges — all in California.
“I was drawn to the more expansive lifestyle and a different culture, and the open-mindedness of it all,” Taute recalled. “I never really felt at home in Iowa. I never felt like my true self.”
Part of it, of course, had to do with the fact that few other people in rural Iowa looked like her.
Outwardly, Taute may have been the face of confidence, dancing competitively for the Rhythm Room in Jefferson and doing whatever else she set her mind to.
“Growing up, I never talked about my hand, never talked about being different,” Taute explained. “I could do everything. I never needed assistance.”
If there were any challenges at all, they were minor, said Dawn Taute, like difficulty securing the backs of earrings herself.
“Everything else she figured out,” her mom said. “It’s just who she was. Everyone was accepting of it.”
But, on the inside, being the only one ever in school or in town with a limb difference, and never seeing anyone similar in the media, takes a cumulative toll.
“It made me feel insecure,” Madisyn Taute said, “like an outcast.”
That all started to change in 2017, when Taute embarked on a retreat in Moab, Utah, for women with physical differences. She not only left Utah with a new love of the outdoors, but a new sense of confidence.
Anyone, she said, can climb. She knows some climbers who only have one arm. Some are without a leg. Some are paralyzed from the waist down. Some are blind.
“It comes down to how determined you are in the end,” she said.
But not even Taute could have predicted becoming a model.
Just days before COVID-19 shut everything down last March, Taute was asked by a friend at San Diego State to participate in an adaptive fashion show.
It was “the whole thing,” she said — catwalk, music, audience.
Never before had Taute done anything like it. But something clicked.
Taute is now represented by Zebedee Management, a U.K.-based talent agency established in 2017 to increase the representation of people in the media. Zebedee’s talent roster includes people with various physical and learning disabilities, and with physical differences such as vitiligo and albinism.
In October, Taute got her first job: modeling workout clothes for a little company called Target.
“I never dreamed my first job would be working with Target,” she said. “It’s super cool. It’s all a blessing.”
California is also blessed with an abundance of scenery that still lends itself well to portraying the ideal lifestyle — Taute has gone on shoots in Malibu, Santa Monica and Topanga Canyon.
But more than anything, Taute hopes to be an inspiration.
“I don’t want to be just a model,” she said. “I want to be a role model.”