Tag Archives: little people

Robert Reich: But What’s “Normal” Anyway?

Robert Reich in a small crowd of men. Bill Clinton is leaning down and touching Reich's cheek. The top of Reich's head is below Clinton's shoulders.

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.


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What Would You Do? Tell Them to Go to Hell, I Hope


Debbie says:


Tom Cush was catfished by ABC’s What Would You Do?, a show its network describes as a “journalistic endeavor.”

Not being an online dater myself, I had to look up “catfished” in Urban Dictionary, which defines the term as “being deceived over facebook as the deceiver professed their romantic feelings to his/her victim, but isn’t who they say they are.”

That both is and isn’t what happened to Cush. What Would You Do? sounds like a cross between Candid Camera, a show from my younger days, where people were put in implausible or embarrassing situations and caught on camera, and sleazy contemporary “issues journalism.” ABC says the show (on network since 2008)

establishes everyday scenarios and then captures people’s reactions. Whether people are compelled to act or mind their own business, John  Quiñones reports on their split-second and often surprising decision-making process.

Note, because it will be important later, that the show is about the reactions of people seeing these “everyday scenarios,” and not about the people in them. The implication is that the people in the scenarios are actors. Not so, at least not this time.

Cush is a little person, i.e., as he says, he was born with dwarfism. He uses online dating sites to find “average-sized” women who are comfortable dating him. He sounds frank, open, and honest in his approach to the women he meets online.

Unfortunately, “Jess” was not frank, open, nor honest. Using a false photograph, she put a lot of pressure on Cush to meet her at a specific place at a specific time, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. When he got to the pre-arranged meeting, the woman there was not the person he had seen online.

I realized that I would have to be the one to address the very obvious cause for the awkwardness between us. Jess was not the woman pictured in her Bumble profile, and I said so. As she laughed nervously, she suggested that the photos of her were merely dated.

“The pictures I have on there are old,” she said apologetically. “I look a little different now.” Blown away by the suggestion that I simply had not recognized her, I pulled out my phone and brought up her profile page.

“I’m sorry, can we just forget about it?” she asked, the embarrassment of her lie now clear in her voice. “Let’s just forget about it. What do you want to drink?” But I wasn’t having it—it was too uncomfortable to me to pretend like I hadn’t been purposefully deceived, and I said as much.

After a pause, thick with the tension between us, I took some of the hostility out of my voice. “Look, humor is really important to me, and you’re funny,” I told her. “Be honest next time, and you will find you the right guy. It’s not me.” I told her I was going to leave and got up from the table.

That’s when the cameras came out. 

The situation brought Cush into a panic attack. To his enormous credit, refused to sign their releases, despite substantial pressure. (“Jess suggested that if I didn’t feel comfortable, I should sign the release form anyway, and could tell them I ‘changed my mind’ after the fact.”)

Do I need to say that no one should ever tell someone to sign something before they’re sure and maybe back out later? If I had a shred of respect left for the people involved in this incident, that would have made it disappear.

Cush writes very cogently about the show’s blurring of bystander/participant/protagonist roles, the ways in which the show tries to trap people, and more. But he doesn’t address one aspect I thought was important:

This story would be horrifying if Cush was not a little person. It would also be very familiar, except that generally the person in Cush’s role would be female and the person in Jess’s role would be male (and the TV cameras would likely not be a factor). One thing Cush’s account reveals is that the producers and paid participants were attempting to feminize and trivialize a non-normative man. There wouldn’t be anything inherently wrong with feminizing someone … except when “feminizing” means playing on their insecurities and vulnerabilities, and attempting to remove their agency.

They assumed (at least somewhat accurately) that because he is a little person, and because he’s looking to date women who might stereotypically be uninterested, they could lure him with aggressive responses, and get themselves good footage. They took advantage of his vulnerability, and it’s only by luck and Cush’s good judgment under extreme stress that they didn’t get someone vulnerable enough to fall all the way into their trap.

Almost certainly, they were also banking on extra humor value from how he looks; they had the opportunity to take advantage of stereotyped expectations around an average-sized woman and a little man. The camera angles would have been designed to accentuate those differences. Again, there’s no inherent reason that a dating encounter between a man who is maybe 4’10” or so and a woman who is maybe 5’7″ or so is funny, unless cameras, commentary, and pre-existing stereotypes are used to pull laughs out of people accustomed to the casual cruelty of contemporary television. Have you watched America’s Funniest Home Videos recently?

So my question for John Quiñones and the staff of the show is “What would you do if someone called you out as the tricksters, cheaters, and hypocrites that you are?” Would you admit it? Would you do it on camera?