I have dwarfism. It shouldn't be awkward to talk about it

Many will worry about breaking some sacrosanct rule of political correctness


I often think that it’s a good job the Metropolitan Police don’t operate a policy of ‘size profiling’. If they did, life would be constantly interrupted by being stopped and searched, mistaken for someone else who wasn’t me; they just fitted the description: white, male, and under 4’6”.

To be clear: this is not about dwarfs like myself being more likely to commit crime than average height people. It is about the many awkward interactions I have, week after week, when a stranger will insist on stopping me in the street to ask if I’m “off the TV” or say that they “love my films” (I haven’t been in any). A couple of years ago, a man stopped me while walking in Camden Market:

Stranger: “Excuse me, but were you in Jerusalem yesterday?”

Me: “‘Jerusalem’? Is that a play or a musical?” (people sometimes ask if I work in theatre or, more insultingly, tell me I’d “make good money” if I worked in the Panto).

Stranger: “No.”

Me: “You mean Jerusalem the place?”

Stranger: “Yes.”

Me: “Was I in Jerusalem yesterday??”

Stranger: (as if it’s a normal question) “Yes!”

Me: “Seriously?? NO!”

The man looked at me askance, like it was reasonable to assume there was only one dwarf, whose job it must be to travel the world, popping up in different places on a timetable so tight it would need Doc Brown and a flux capacitor.

More awkward are those occasions when the person approaching me confuses me for one of their friends. While studying at Sussex University, there was, at the same time, a man with the same sort of dwarfism as me (Achondroplasia) and of the same age and height, but we really didn’t look anything like each other.

Yet, people would confuse us for one another, frequently. Even his ‘friends’ (which was odd. I don’t think my black friends would stick around for long if I repeatedly confused them with random black people in the street).

On one occasion, while in a club, walking across the dance floor, the man in front of me stops me and slaps me in the face. Not a punch, but a hard, banter-between-lads slap.

I look up at him, livid. “This had better be good”, I tell him.

As his eyes meet mine, all colour drains from his face, his jaw drops.


I take such moments on the chin (literally, sometimes). But these examples underline an important point: that there still remains among many people a real lack of awareness around dwarfism and disability. Many people don’t know how to approach difference when they encounter it (which is not necessarily their fault) so they approach it through the only point of reference that they have – films and television – or assume you must be someone you’re not.

I’ve said before how this highlights the need for more normal representation of dwarfism and disability in the media. But it also calls for something else: the need for people to feel able to talk openly and freely about difference and disability. It’s a difficult ask. Many will worry about breaking some sacrosanct rule of political correctness. But only by pushing that sense of awkwardness aside and leaving their comfort zone can such a discussion ever begin in the first place. The new ‘End the Awkward’ campaign, launched by Scope, is a good place to start this on a national level.

The encounters described above are funny ones. Believe me, I have others – some violent and abusive. But the one I take most heart from was when a young mum with a little girl, aged 4, stopped me in the street and bravely asked whether I would explain to her daughter why I look different.

I have no doubt that little girl won’t remember me or what I said to her, but I like to think that perhaps next time she sees someone with dwarfism it will all feel a little more familiar.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Prevention is better than cure if we want to save the NHS

Tanni Grey Thompson
Question time: Russell Brand interviewing Ed Miliband on his YouTube show  

Russell Brand's Labour endorsement is a stunning piece of hypocrisy

Lee Williams
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before