On Being a Little Person

Buckle in.

To begin, let me say the following opinions are mine and mine alone. I am not trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking, nor am I using this post to condone anyone’s lifestyle or choices. I am also going to refrain from calling out individual people by name. It’s tacky, unnecessary and as the great Destiny’s Child put it, “You know I’m not gonna diss you on the internet…cause my momma taught me better than that.”

I recently have come under a lot of heat for a comment I made on a friend’s Facebook status about Miley Cyrus’ SNL appearance. Essentially, my LP friend said that little people actors should take note of how our other little person friend played his guitar for her performance, rather than dance behind her in say…a plant or food costume. A lot of the LP community commented on the status and a debate began on LP performers and the types of “gigs” we are hired to perform for. Long story short (pun absolutely intended), I decided to comment with the following:

So I apologize in advance if this stirs the pot more but I was reading the comments and really wanted to weigh in. [Person who originally posted], you basically said everything I’ve been wanting to say for a long time but have been too chicken shit to say because I didn’t want to offend anyone.
Most of the time, getting a job purely because you’re a little person (in my opinion) is not a good thing. It is further fulfilling society’s idea that we are something to laugh at; that our value is simply to shock. We can all agree that right now all Miley Cyrus wants to do is make society’s jaw drop. So what’s more “weird” or “freaky” than having little people parading around in your show?
As someone who is trying to make it as a serious actress in this industry, not just trying to “be famous” or make money, there is nothing more frustrating than this stigma. The longer little people agree to be used as shock value, the longer it is going to take for us to be taken seriously.
I was a bear in Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance and it was my first time doing anything like that…anything where I was being used because of my height, not because of my talent. And I will be the first one to tell you that standing on that stage, in that costume was one of the most degrading things I felt like I could ever do. I realize not everyone shares my opinion and I might just be young and naive, but I feel like the acceptance of this kind of treatment has got to stop.

I have been attempting to be a professional actress for the past 3 years and my mom will probably tell you I have been attempting to be a professional actress my entire life. I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not want to be on a stage or in front of a camera. I have been performing in plays and musicals since I could speak. I attended a small Liberal Arts school in Michigan where I earned a degree in Theatre. I was in plays and musicals while in school and I earned none of my roles by simply being small and not one show I was in even made mention of it. I have lived in Los Angeles for almost two years and let me be one of the millions to tell you…it is not easy. Not only am I attempting to break into an impossible industry, but I am trying to do it with what some may consider a huge disadvantage. For decades, little people have not been taken seriously and we still continue to not be. As an actress, I am presented with maybe 2% of the “real” auditions that my average height actress friends are presented with.

However, I have been presented with many other opportunities. I was in Miley Cyrus’ 2013 VMA performance as one of the background bears. I had never done anything in a costume with a mask like that before. I mean, I dressed up as a Pink Power Ranger when I was in Kindergarten and I had a mask on but, I digress… I had never been in a performance where I was purely meant to be gawked or laughed at. I will never forget that performance because it is what forced me to draw my personal line in the sand. After our first dress rehearsal in the costumes with the crew, publicists, performers etc watching us, I walked out of the Barclay Center shaking and crying. Thankfully, my best friends, Kelly and Kerri, happened to be NYC to visit me. They were waiting for me and I walked up to them and broke down. I love being the center of attention, but that was something different. I was being stared and laughed at for all of the wrong reasons. I was being looked at as a prop…as something less than human.

Now, I have never been terribly bullied for being little person. I was extremely fortunate to grow up with a wonderful family and amazing friends. I view these people as a my personal shield. If anyone ever laughed at me on the playground as a child, I wasn’t even given a chance to defend myself because my friends or my cousin, Britt, would step forward and serve these people back some playground realness (mostly they would call them stupid or tell them to shut up…realness). In college, an online message board was started about me. People anonymously wrote in and said I looked “bug-eyed” and that I “creeped” them out and that they “felt sorry for my family that I even existed and I should just go die”. It wasn’t great. I felt the lowest I thought I could feel, but the minute I set foot outside my dorm room, I had sorority sisters, friends, and professors expressing their disgust at the board and it was eventually taken down. More recently, I was at a bar with my friends, Chris, Mark and James, and a man made some comment about my height and went to touch my hair. Before I even knew what was happening or what was said, the boys had stepped between the man and I, and had physically shielded him from even coming near me. My friends are amazing and I bring these examples up to show that, I have been fortunate to know that for every asshole out there calling me a “bug-eyed midget” I have a lot of other people who love me and treat me with respect.

So, while all of those other situations weren’t fun, they never made me feel less than human. When I did the VMAs, I did feel like that. For the first time I felt truly ashamed of being a little person. We were being used simply because we were little. It felt like society still saw us as a joke, despite the fact there is literally nothing different about me other than the fact I am small. You would never make someone with Down Syndrome to come to your party as an “angry retard”. (I have been asked to go to a party as an “angry elf”). So when they asked me to audition for Miley’s tour, I was incredibly hesitant. The money was great and I would have gotten a free trip to Las Vegas. My computer had recently broken and my car needed (and still needs) multiple repairs. I could have fixed a lot of that with the Miley money. So, I sent in my audition tape. I found out I was chosen and was going to have to begin rehearsals the next day. In this whole process, I was never quite told what I would be dancing to or as with Miley. I began to get a horrible gut feeling. All of the VMA feelings came rushing back. I called my mom, Kelly, and Kerri and we all debated for hours about the situation. Eventually they did that annoying thing everyone does where they said “Ultimately, it is your decision.” I wondered if I could do it again…if it my computer and car were worth it. If it was worth that one day, when my future (possibly little person) child YouTubed Miley Cyrus and found me dancing onstage in a costume like that and said something like “But Mom, you don’t let me do things like that” and I had to explain that Momma did it to pay the bills. I wondered if it was worth feeling less than human again.

And frankly, it wasn’t.

I also had a job and dog here in LA that I didn’t want to leave. Too many negative thoughts and considerations went into it. I decided not to join in on the Miley party.

I am not “hating on” the people who are currently doing this, or the little people who decide to do performances in a similar vein. That’s what is so lovely about our world. You are free to do whatever the hell you want to do. “Oh hey, Jesse Pinkman! You’re going to make and sell meth? Cool! I don’t want to do meth, nor do I want to sell it. I don’t think you should do it because I think you’re better than that, but hey! Who am I to tell you what to do?!”

I am simply explaining why I do not do this kind of performance or behavior. If the little person community continues to do performances like this, it is my belief that we will continue to only receive maybe 2% of the auditions and opportunities of our average sized friends. Society will think we’re OK with being laughed at because we still continue to do things that allow them to laugh at us or look at us as props.

So, there it is. Just one girl’s opinion. Let’s all go to Panda Express and get along now, eh?

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577 Responses to On Being a Little Person

  1. Willow Management is a British talent agency dedicated to promoting the careers of performers under five feet high and over seven feet tall. Willow Management is more then a place to find actors when you need a midget or a giant. The agency is dedicated to finding roles that reach beyond the traditional roles that face small and large actors, and run by a staff who is more experienced with dealing with the needs of midget and giant actors then regular agencies that may view them as a novelty.
    Currently Willow Management represents over one hundred midget actors and five giants.
    Famous Short Actors

    • Dear Kseniya, The term ‘Midget’ is deemed by many to be highly offensive because it is dehumanising. We are people with dwarfism, little people, people of restricted growth or short-statured. Please see my blog… http://kirunastamell.net/m-word/ for further explanation.

      The truth about the m-word…

      The m-word has never been a medical term. While ‘dwarf/dwarfism’ is medically accepted and refers to people under a specific height (approx 4’10”). There are over 200 types of dwarfism, with different environmental and genetic causes.

      The word was invented in the 1800s by the freak-shows of the time. It derives from the word ‘midge’, meaning a small sand fly. Not very nice connotations, expressed there.

      Myth associates the m-word with ‘proportionate’ dwarfs because of the way it was used in freak-show advertising. There is no such thing as a ‘midget’ it was a freak-show advertising concept that became misappropriated. ‘Little people’, proportionate or not all have ‘dwarfism’.

  2. Pingback: Why Miley Cyrus and riot grrrl’s Kathleen Hanna could be the perfect collaboration | New Music

  3. Pingback: Why Miley Cyrus and riot grrrl's Kathleen Hanna could be the perfect collaboration | IBNMoney Europe EU

  4. Pingback: Why Miley Cyrus and riot grrrl’s Kathleen Hanna could be the perfect collaboration | World News Online

  5. all the shows have its ideas most of the shows makers just need dancers of average height but the idea of the vmas performance was the bears to be little . all the people just need the wright size if they wanted the bears to be big they would’ve used tall people . however i didnt even know that the bears were little people . ok when i wrote little people dancers in google the only things and photos that appeared were at miley’s concerts so tell me wtf is wrong with the other singers shows etc what’s the problem not tall people (i dont think little people is appropriate) to be dancers they could be anything they want if the stupid racist didnt stop them

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