The acceptable terminologies for anyone small are 'person of restricted growth', or 'person of short stature'. 'Little person' is fairly acceptable, as is 'dwarf' for people like myself who are out of proportion - in that my trunk is normal size, but my arms and legs are short. I hate the word 'midget', I can't use it.

I'm 4ft 2in. My condition is called achondroplasia, commonly known as dwarfism. It's the result of a freak gene mutation from my parents. The bones in my arms and legs didn't grow as they should. My father and brothers are all over 6ft, my sister is about 5ft 8in, and my mother is about the same.

I have a fairly mild condition; some people who have the condition more severely have fingers are all the same size, and there may be a gap between the middle and third finger. My hand is fairly short and broad, but my fingers are all different lengths. Some people have quite a dent in the bridge of their nose; I don't have that.

At primary school I always thought that one day I'd be tall and slim but, around my early teenage years, I began finding sporting activities difficult. Lacrosse, for example, which is played above your head, was really stupid for me to play, and netball was hard, too.

My sister was a year behind me in the same school, and she excelled at sport. That was difficult. I was the sister of the girl who was winning the cup every year, I would never win the cup. In the end, I was very proud of her.

It was also difficult when my youngest brother, four years younger, overtook me in height when I was 10. That was a bit of a milestone. I was then the smallest in the family.

I have never questioned my parents about why this happened. I don't want them to feel guilty. You can't blame people for something which wasn't in their control. I could have a genetic test to find out which parent was the cause, but I don't want to know.

It's a dominant gene, so I could pass it on, should I decide to have children - if I can physically carry children. The size of any child would depend on my partner. If my partner has the same condition as me, there will be a one-in-four chance the child will have multiple complications. If my partner is tall, it's a one-in-two chance the child will be affected. So I could have a tall child, but if I had a small child, I wouldn't mind.

I worship children, they are my life. I'm a teacher, and as far back as I can remember, I've wanted to work with children. I've found my height has been a great help because children don't need to look up to me, they can hug me around the neck, and I can see things from their point of view, literally. But I am still respected as an adult, I have no problems with discipline.

In the street it's different because there can be a lot of name- calling, which upsets me; as does being pointed out or stared at, especially by adults. The other day someone in a shop said quite openly to their children: 'If you don't eat your greens, you'll end up small, like that person.' Apart from being insensitive to me, it's silly to lie to children like that.

I didn't ever meet small people. I wasn't even aware there were other people around like me until I was 15 or 16, when my aunt heard of the Restricted Growth Association and suggested that I join.

I went through a rough patch after I went to a convention for the Association: it suddenly hit me hard . . . all these small people, that's what I look like. For a while I was really depressed about that, thinking, 'I have to live with this for the rest of my life.'

I still don't like mirrors. I've got a full-length mirror in my bedroom, but it's placed behind the door so that I can't see it all the time - I don't like seeing my full length in the mirror.

Physically, I can do most things, and I can get around easily as I have a car. Reaching is the worst, not being able to reach things. The hassle of going to a supermarket - and the item you want is on the top shelf, so you have to go and find somebody to help. On trains, I find my face in people's stomachs and bottoms; and trying to get off a bus or a train in rush hour is difficult - often people haven't a clue I'm there. Cigarettes really frighten me, too, because people walk down the street with cigarettes at our eye level - they're not aware of what they're doing.

When I go clothes shopping, I know I can't go out on Saturday morning and buy something to wear that night. I do buy a lot of children's clothes because they are quite big in the body and short in the sleeve. Marks & Spencer are now doing really nice culottes in an 18-inch length, which is ideal for me, the hem is only 10 inches off the ground. For anyone else, that is really short, but they are full-length skirts on me.

I like being small. I wouldn't change it for the world, not now I've learnt to live with it. There have been possibilities in the past - a limb-lengthening operation was mentioned, but then it is six months to a year in a wheelchair.

I remember once going on stilts which were eight inches off the ground, and I was gigantic, I was towering. I was quite frightened as well because when I was tall I was too high, it wasn't me.

And I accept me as small now, I don't mind, I'm all right, I'm happy as I am. I've got a very big circle of friends, I've got a good job, a good flat, a good life.

Margaret Milne is chair of the Restricted Growth Association, 103 St Thomas Avenue, Hayling Island, Hampshire PO11 0EU.

(Photograph omitted)

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