24 In Dwarfism

It’s Time to Stop Using the M-Word

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!

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24 Comments

  • Reply
    Tarnisha Thomas
    November 17, 2015 at 12:23 am

    I was just called the M word the other day by someone who attends my church. It was very hurtful, and I didn’t know how to respond. I would rather be called Tarnisha or a little person.

    • Reply
      Kate
      November 17, 2015 at 4:09 am

      Tarnisha! I am so sorry! I completely understand how hard that can be! There are a lot of times I don’t have the words in those situations to explain to someone that their words are hurtful! Please feel free to refer someone to this blog to help them understand!

      • Reply
        Tarnisha Thomas
        November 17, 2015 at 1:50 pm

        I will definitely be sharing this on all my social media sites. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Kayla
    November 17, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    I just wanted to say that I appreciate you giving an explanation on why the word is so offensive to the community as a whole. You didn’t just say it is but gave a lesson so everyone understands. And you did it so eloquently. I’m new to this community with my 2 year old and love learning all I can for her.

    • Reply
      Kate
      May 19, 2016 at 9:25 pm

      Thank you Kayla! You are such a great mom to her educating yourself! I hope to meet you some day at the convention!

  • Reply
    Michaela
    November 17, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Im not short staured but my partner is, i always had an idea that the m word was not the correct word but it is really surprising how many people dont know there are word you should use to describe short stature. I also know people who though it was the most politically correct word to use. Its great to see people like you publically educating the community ☺

    • Reply
      Kate
      November 18, 2015 at 12:09 am

      Thank you so much for sharing that with me! I’m so glad I get the opportunity to educate so many people!

  • Reply
    Jodi (Welander) Fischer
    November 18, 2015 at 2:40 am

    Kate,
    I always knew you would do something great! What a wonderful women you have become. I love that you have this blog and are so openly sharing your story and view. The sweet girl I taught swim lessons to, I can’t believe how time has passed. Congratulations and look forward to reading more!

    • Reply
      Kate
      May 19, 2016 at 9:24 pm

      Thank you Jodi! You are so sweet!! That felt like so long ago! Thank you!

  • Reply
    Rebecca
    November 18, 2015 at 4:06 am

    Hi, just wanted to let you know I have a daughter in law and exceptional granddaughter who both have achondroplasia. Thanks to each of them I and my family have been enlightened. She made sure to point out there is a DIFFERENCE in midget and dwarfism,,,midgets are short in stature….dwarfs aore little people with short limbs. HER PET PEVE….and I don’t blame her….is when someone pats her on top of the head….she says you pet your dog….wish you all the best…..

    • Reply
      Kate
      May 19, 2016 at 9:23 pm

      Rebecca! I am so glad you are blessed with such a sweet family! It is my biggest pet peeve too! I share that with her as well! Thank you for sharing your perspective!

  • Reply
    Ava
    November 18, 2015 at 4:21 am

    I just wanted to commend you for putting this into words so perfectly. Very well written and I was very happy to share with our friends and family! Thank you.

    • Reply
      Kate
      May 19, 2016 at 9:22 pm

      Thank you for sharing it Ava! You are the best!

  • Reply
    Jennie
    November 18, 2015 at 11:55 am

    In swedish midget and dwarf are translated to the same word “dvärg”. It is not an acceptable word to use. But some people use it anyway. So I am very glad to read that you don’t approve of the word dwarf either. Since english is our second language, and the word dwarf is often used in movies and english written articles etc. It is really hard for some people to learn what is the political correct word to use. So thank you for your words. 😉

    • Reply
      Kate
      November 18, 2015 at 7:10 pm

      Thank you so much Jennie for sharing! It’s so interesting to learn that it isn’t acceptable in other languages as well!

  • Reply
    Holly
    March 26, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    Thank you for the education. I thought they were two different sets of people. I had no idea midget was offensive. I appreciate you taking the time to write an informative article.

    • Reply
      Kate
      March 28, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Hey Holly! Thanks for reading it! Always feel free to let me know if you have any questions!

  • Reply
    Ricky Manders
    March 27, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    Thank you for this article Kate – I am constantly explaining why the M word is inappropriate. Although this is not an issue which affects me personally, I am passionate in my attempts to inform and educate on this subject

    Some readers may be interested in my dissertation “The social construction of dwarfism in British Television Comedy”, which can be read here:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279961307_Social_Construction_of_Dwarfism_in_British_Television_Comedy

    • Reply
      Kate
      March 28, 2016 at 2:16 pm

      Thank you Ricky for being a voice for change and educating people! I will definitely check that out!

  • Reply
    Faye North
    April 7, 2016 at 7:39 am

    Kate, I hope you don’t mind but I have shared this most fantastic blog on a Facebook page I run called Dwarfism Life. I have Achondroplasia myself and feel this is one of the best articles I’ve read about the ‘m’ word. Thank you so, so much for sharing your experience.

    • Reply
      Kate
      May 19, 2016 at 9:21 pm

      Faye! Thank you for sharing with your friends! I am definitely going to check that out! You are the best!

  • Reply
    Ginger
    May 18, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    I seriously had no idea it was a derogatory term. I was unaware of its origins. if we are never around it, we simply don’t know. It’s not out of disrespect or anything. I promise — it’s just ignorance. So, again, I’m apologizing for the masses who did not know. Also, to label someone due to their differences isn’t always derogatory either. If I’m the only girl in a group, then it’s okay to be identified by a girl. If I’m the only person with hearing loss, in okay with you identifying me as such. I’m also overweight. If you point me out as the “fat girl” when I’m in a room full of stick people, then so be it. Now, nicer verbiage could be used, but just focus on YOUR beauty and YOUR God-given gifts. We are all equal in HIs sight – even if we are ignorant to the social norms. Now, my friend has a child with a similar condition as your. I think I’ll just call her by name. No labels. Just her name.

    • Reply
      Kate
      May 19, 2016 at 9:20 pm

      Ginger thank you so much for your response! You are so right about everything! Thank you for joining in the discussion!

  • Reply
    Christina
    May 20, 2016 at 6:38 am

    Thank u for this post, it’s very informative. My daughter has arthrogryposis but I’ve noticed that many people with her condition don’t grow to the usual height and weight proportions and I would be so upset if anyone used anything negative dorogatory to describe her or her condition. Ur group is another I will open my heart to when watching my words and my family’s words. God bless u all.

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