01/09/2015 12:58 BST | Updated 01/09/2016 06:59 BST

Redefining Beauty on the Runway and Beyond

Catwalks have always been a space for difference, and fashion has always been a means for questioning convention. Androgynous shapes blend gender boundaries - think Gucci's show at Milan Fashion Week, which saw its men clad in blouses and floral prints - while out-there designs encourage individuality and present alternative visions of reality. Nothing about fashion is "normal", and conformity or sameness have no place.

It seems strange, then, that the fashion world has for so long held up an ideal, a homogenous vision of beauty and body image that doesn't necessarily allow for difference. While design has time and time again thrown the rule-book out the window, the runway hasn't.

But over the last year or so, change seems to have been slowly rippling through the industry. That was brought to our attention last week when Madeline Stuart, born with Down's syndrome, hit the headlines after it was announced she would be appearing in this year's New York Fashion Week. The Australian-born model is also the face of EverMaya's handmade bags and Manifesta's fitness wear - a range that deliberately avoids using numbered sizes.

She's not alone; in February, Jamie Brewer - star of 'An American Horror Story' - made her debut at NYFW.

America's Next Top Model star Chantelle Winnie - born with a chronic skin condition which saw her bullied as a child - was meanwhile named the face of both Desigual and Diesel for their spring/summer 2015 campaigns.

And designer Carrie Hammer debuted a collection last year ("Role models, not runway models") that saw CEOs, philanthropists and other high-flying women selected to stride down the catwalk in a bid to eschew negative ideals.

And that can only be a positive move. Runways have the power to influence and shape our conception of what it means to be beautiful, and designers should be embracing that power. Beauty shouldn't be defined by one aesthetic.

Jae West highlighted the damage that can have last week when she stood blindfolded in her underwear at Piccadilly Circus to promote acceptance of body image, after suffering from an eating disorder as a teenager. Such a story is inspiring, and overcoming an eating disorder is commendable. But not everyone does. Though I'm not suggesting the fashion industry is to blame, the idea of having to look a certain way can lead to obsession.

But Chantelle Winnie raised a valid point in an interview with the Guardian; we are arguably just as much to blame as the industry itself. Fashion feeds us with what we want to see. "If humans want to see the same types of people over and over that's what industries will give us. If we want to see something different that's what they'll have to give us," she said.

While that's partly true, it's also pure fact that we're a product of everything around us. If what we see around changes, then so too should our perceptions and aspirations. Madeline Stuart and Chantelle Winnie are two examples of fashion being used as a positive force for progress. While they might not be a solution in themselves, they're a step in the right direction - a nod to the notion of difference, innovation and non-conformity that every other aspect of the fashion world embodies. If the industry's biggest icons (think Alexander McQueen) have seen so much success because of the unconventionality they stand or stood for, so too should its faces.