Laurie and Debbie say:
Robert Reich is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley . He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He currently writes regularly at robertreich.substack.com, and for The Guardian. While he generally writes about politics, from a perspective we both appreciate, today he took the time to write about his life, in Why I’m So Short.
From time to time I burden you with some personal stuff, based on my belief that our values begin with who we are and where we came from. Besides, I’ve been writing this daily letter to you for almost two years, and you have every right to know a bit more about me.
So today I want to get very personal and tell you why I’m so short — a condition that led to lots of bullying and ridicule when I was a kid, which in turn helped shape who I am.
When he failed to pass 5 feet, his mother, who had been expecting a growth spurt,
took me to see a doctor in New York who specialized in bone growth. He took a bunch of measurements, asked questions about the heights of my grandparents and great-grandparents (they were all normal), did some X-rays, drew some blood samples, and three weeks later phoned to say he had no idea why I was so short.
He talks about problems with dating, and about revisiting the reasons for his height when he and his wife started talking about having kids.
Medical science had advanced considerably over the two decades, because there was an answer to why I was so short.
I was a mutant. More specifically, I had inherited a mutation called Fairbanks disease, or multiple epiphyseal dysplasia — a rare genetic disorder that slows bone growth. (The actor Danny DeVito also has this condition.) Normal bones grow when cartilage is deposited at their ends. The cartilage then hardens to become additional bone. But my cartilage didn’t work that way. …
… the geneticist explained that the odds of passing this mutation to my children were very small. And even if they had it, the odds that it would slow their bone growth or cause any other irregularities, or be passed on to their own children, were miniscule.
We decided to have kids. And our sons turned out perfectly normal.
He then goes on to make the important point of the essay:
But what’s “normal” anyway? And why is normal so important?
I’ve had a wonderful life. I have a loving family. I’ve had good friends, work that I consider satisfying and important, reasonably good health except for the above-mentioned problems. So what if I’m very short?
Because he is one of the world’s most prominent little people, parents come to him for advice about short children:
I … tell them that if they or their children are desperate, they can resort to limb-lengthening surgeries, growth hormone treatments with unknown and potentially dangerous side effects, humatrope, and a wide variety of homeopathic or crank remedies.
But I gently urge them not to do any of these things. I tell them to love their short kids. Inundate them with affection, and they’ll be okay.
We both really appreciate this balanced view: there are options (we’ve written about limb-lengthening here and here) and you don’t have to use them. As Debbie said in the 2022 post linked above, “it could be about weight loss surgery, it could be about skin lightening, it could be about body hair removal, but this time it’s about limb-lengthening surgery.”
Reich quotes one pediatric endocrinologist as saying: “They want growth hormone, looking for a specific height. But this is not like Amazon; you can’t just place an order and make a child the height you want.”
He’s honest about the downsides of being short, including when he ran for office and that was all the media wanted to talk about. He cites some interesting studies about the actual lives of short people as opposed to the social assumptions about those lives. He points out the ways heightism is built into language. Think about the people we can “look up to.”
Mostly, however, he’s just talking about himself: what he’s been through, what he’s learned, how he sees himself now. And he wants his substantial subscribers’ list (over 2300 people have liked the post so far) to understand that it is possible to have a really great life without ever reaching 5 feet tall, and that being bullied sucks–but it isn’t necessarily enough reason to dislike or re-form your body.
Every voice for appreciating yourself as you are is valuable: Reich’s is only different because he can reach a wider audience than most.
Debbie is no longer active on Twitter. Follow her on Mastodon.
Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.