The You’re Just Little photographic exhibition reveals the challenges, obstacles and societal assumptions that Dwarf people face on a daily basis.
Episode Three talks about identity and the difficulties and obstacles, that dwarf people face in order to be recognised and respected as adults. Sharing my own experiences of being infantilised.
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To talk about the exhibition and the content of this podcast, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, comment below or join in the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag #yourejustlittle.
Hello, I’m Steph, the curator, creative activist, and artist behind this work.
You’re Just Little was a photographic exhibition that was first shown in October 2018. The aim of the exhibition was to reveal the challenges, obstacles and societal assumptions that people, like myself, with Dwarfism, face on a daily basis
If you have any questions feel free to email me them over at email@example.com, over on the website mentioned just now and you can also find us on social media with the hashtag #yourejustlittle – that’s y-o-u-r-e-just-little.
In the previous episode, we looked at the theme of independence and the difficulties Dwarf people face on a daily basis to be able to move around safely.
In this episode, we are going to take a look at the theme of identity and the challenges people, like me, face, to gain recognition and respect as an adult in society.
There are over 200 medically known forms of dwarfism, with an estimated 7000 people living with some form of dwarfism in the U.K. 80% of people with dwarfism are born into average-height families where there has been little to no dwarfism before. There are two main types of dwarfism – proportionate and disproportionate. Achondroplasia, a form of disproportionate dwarfism, is the most common. Personally, I have a rare form of proportionate dwarfism, known as Russell Silver Syndrome.
As a community, we have a vast array of medical issues, prejudices and difficulties we individually face or are particular to an individual form of dwarfism. For instance, the difficulties I face being 4ft” 4” (133cm) tall will be even more pronounced or outright inaccessible to a woman, with say, achondroplasia or SEDc, who is 3ft 5” (or a 104cm).
The one thing that does unite us as Dwarf people, as a community, is society’s reactions to our bodies. For centuries, the dwarf body has been seen as an object of curiosity, mirth or in the case of this particular photo, infantilized and being mistaken as a child.
This episode’s photo shows a narrow red box of crayons with the words, ‘A Little Box of Crayons’ in white and yellow font colours, the visual emphasis being on the words ‘Little Box’. The red box has been laid on top of a pub table, which shows the grains of the brown wood.
I was given these crayons while visiting a pub for lunch with my husband and is his family. There were two children in our party and I sat at the same end as the kids to keep my mother bear eye on them. Next thing I know 3 sheets of paper and 3 boxes of these A Little Box of crayons had been added in front of us. I picked it up and had that dawning realisation that I had been mistaken for a child at the same time as the assistant came over to take our order.
“Do I get to colour in too?!” I quipped, trying to deal with an awkward situation, not of my making, with some humour.
I’ve lost count, though, of the number of times I’ve been handed the kids menu and more so these days, a colouring-in sheet, or in this photo’s case – a box or tin of crayons or pencils.
For years I’ve steeled myself walking into pubs, restaurants, and the cinema, hoping that the customer service assistants will recognise me as an adult and not see me as a child.
The thing with incidents like this is, is that it is not an isolated experience for me and many others with Dwarfism. Every day, while we deal with the physical difficulties of moving around the environment, we are also equally dealing with how people will react to us.
Being constantly ‘switched on’ to our surroundings and of the behaviour and potential reactions of those around us is exhausting, stressful and anxiety-inducing.
Being mistaken for a child, while it is wearing and yes, and you do develop a sense of blase about it, I can tell you, you never get used to it.
You can go into these situations with visual cues for the customer service assistant – for instance, holding my car keys or putting on an air of confidence.
I can joke, that I’m one of the few people who look forward to going grey, but it doesn’t stop you feeling unrecognised as the person you are, the wife walking into a restaurant with her husband or being recognised as, and at times questioned, usually silently with an arched eyebrow, about being the mother of my child.
The identities that a non-disabled person is afforded in society, as a mother, as a wife, as a friend, and an adult are denied experiences for me, until I am fully seen. I am infantilised because of my disability. My disability makes me invisible.
Yet we are often told by those close to us “we don’t see your dwarfism” or dismissed by professionals who have not been trained to recognise Dwarfism as a disability.
Yet that is not how I felt when the petrol attendant refused to start the petrol pump because they thought an 8-year-old child had decided to fill up the car before taking it for a spin.
Awareness is key, and while there have been great strides for other disabilities. Dwarfism, as a disability, has yet to be fully recognised, let alone acknowledged and understood for the difficulties faced – physically and in terms of identity, by society.
Our bodies are more than likely to be presented as some fantastical figure or something to objectify and laugh at. Think about this for a moment, when was the last time you saw a Dwarf person in a movie or book that was a mum, a friend or a colleague rather than an object to toss, or used as a slur of mirth to one of your average-height peers?
Us dwarf people, face the ‘Not seen v’s seen narrative’ on a daily basis. Whereby society simultaneously sees, yet does not see or validate our lived experiences.
We are mocked for our heights and body shapes. Yet this prejudice is not recognised, acknowledged, validated or supported and is usually challenged by those we turn to for support and to keep us safe. This silencing of our experiences is as traumatic as the experience itself. Our lived experiences as Dwarves, erased from the conversation. Silenced.
Every day I have to fight for recognition of my identity, to be seen as a capable adult, as a wife, as a mum. I have to work harder to be taken seriously, to have my voice heard (physically and while being in the room) and to have my experiences validated as real. I also long for the day when I can read a book or watch a film that is reflective of my experiences. That my body isn’t ‘othered’ by filmmakers, authors or comedians.
There is also the downside to the daily fight to be seen – you can become so focused on showing that you are an adult, that there is little room left for learning who you are as a person. Who you are can get lost in this fight for acceptance.
Time and time again we are told “You’re Just Little”.
Thanks for taking a look at this particular photograph. Don’t forget you can see the actual photo over at hellolittlelady.com. If you have any questions or would like to comment, please do email them over at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join in the conversation, through social media using the hashtag #yourejustlittle.
Don’t forget to take a look at our other photos too.