I started this blog to educate others about physical differences and hopefully lessen the negative attention a person with dwarfism feels when out in public. I wanted to talk about the positive and encouraging aspects about celebrating differences. I wanted to speak about stories of acceptance and all the cool things people who have been born with dwarfism have accomplished. I didn’t intend to talk about the hard stuff, the things that were controversial, but by limiting the focus I was only telling half the story. The blog needs to be a place where we talk about the whole story.
So, today let’s talk about the m-word, midget.
The word midget is a highly offensive term to people born with dwarfism.
I understand if you didn’t know that it was offensive, a lot of people don’t. A good friend of mine in college didn’t know either.
One night in college while driving to dinner with my roommate, she was telling a story, I can’t even remember what it was about, but in the middle she used the word midget to describe me.
As soon as the word came out of her mouth it stung. I was so surprised she had used.. that word… to describe me! “How could she! We had been friends for so long. Did she not accept me? Why would she view me like that?”
I had no idea how to respond.
When the emotional rant in my head subsided I realized that she had kept on telling her story without skipping a beat. She didn’t have any idea that what she said was offensive. I didn’t address the issue at the time because she would feel awful, but I knew that I needed to educate her because she wouldn’t want to continue using language that was hurtful.
Strangers have called me a midget before, but I realized at that moment that many loving and well-meaning people out of lack of understanding or ignorance struggle to know how address differences in people.
So let’s talk about it. The word midget is derogatory because of its origin and what it has come to mean over time.
It was first used in the 1800’s when P.T. Barnum used the word to describe little people in what were called “Freak Shows.”
It has been used over time to refer to a person on display and a spectacle. It has come to be used as a derogatory term to label and demean a population of people who are simply, small.
To a person with dwarfism the word midget holds the same pain as the, r-word to describe someone with a mental handicap or the n-word to describe an African-American. These words are derogative because they label a group of individuals by their difference, typically in a negative light, rather than recognizing that we are all individuals first but with different conditions, illnesses or skin colors. I am not my label, I am a person who was born with achondroplasia. To call me a midget puts a label on me that denigrates my individual nature.
I am honored to have the opportunity to educate you about dwarfism but I want you to know I can’t speak for everyone in the community. I feel confident that everyone would agree, when talking about someone who is different from you choose words that recognize and empower the individual instead of derogatory words that degrade or shame.
If you are worried and don’t know if what you are saying could be taken offensively it is always okay to ask the individual.
I have had many situations where people have asked, what is the best way to describe the condition you have?
I love those situations because it gives me an opportunity to help others understand more about my difference and is shows they aren’t making assumptions.
It is always appropriate to describe me as a person who has dwarfism or someone who has achondroplasia. Two words, which are oftentimes associated with my condition, are dwarf or little person. I don’t mind being described as a little person, it is especially helpful for children because it helps them to better understand that we are just smaller people. It is also accurate and acceptable to describe me as a person with dwarfism, however to label me as a “dwarf” puts my condition ahead of my individuality and reinforces the physical difference. (Note: there are some people with dwarfism who are not offended it you would refer to them as dwarfs. But midget is fairly universally viewed as a negative label.)
Thank you so much for reading and allowing me the opportunity to share my perspective. If you have any question please leave a comment or message us here!
If you hear someone using the word midget – I challenge you to speak up and educate others!