Hate is a very strong word in the English language, and there are very few things that I hate in life. Peas are at the top of the list, but that’s another story for another time. But the one thing I hate the most is labeling.
I hate the word “midget.”
I hate the term “Little Person.”
And I hate the name “dwarf.”
As a girl born with achondroplasia, I refuse to define and segregate myself with that community and with those labels. I am merely a girl who is short.
Yet a couple of months ago, I browsed through the biography section at my local Barnes & Noble, and the word “Dwarf” caught my eye. I pulled it off the shelf, and after reading the back cover synopsis of Tiffanie DiDonato’s book Dwarf: A Memoir of How One Woman Fought for a Body and a Life She Was Never Supposed to Have, I knew I had to buy it, and I’m glad I did. I was meant to read this book not just because I could relate to her struggles growing up, but because people like Tiffanie serve as a positive role model for those who struggle to believe that life does get better in the long run with the concoctions of determination, patience, and tough love.
Tiffanie paints a very honest and detailed account of her life. She was born with a rare type of dwarfism called diastrophic displasia, which causes malformation of the joints and cartilage. As a young child, surgery became an integral part of Tiffanie’s life, beginning with her feet and joints in order to stand and then more bone-lengthening surgeries to extend her legs, thighs, and arms.
One can stupidly say the surgeries were all about looking good, but it wasn’t the case for Tiffanie. We are all guilty of taking the little things (no pun intended) for granted. There are some people that abuse some words in order to gain satisfaction for themselves. For instance, the word “independence.” Some people may interpret that word as a way to move out of their parents’ home. In Tiffanie’s case, the word “independence” meant having a normal life and doing things for herself. She didn’t want to rely on other people because she was just as strong and able as everyone else. She yearned for independence and always found ways to assist herself, even though sometimes they didn’t work to her advantage. The milk incident comes to mind. (Hint: read the book.)
Tiffanie’s mother, who was a military nurse, embraced her daughter’s lifelong goal of being independent. You can say at times, she acted like a drill sergeant when it came to pushing Tiffanie to reach her short-term and long-term goals. However, I fully understood her mother’s motives. Tiffanie’s mother was very supportive in her daughter’s decisions. Her tough love pushed her daughter to believe that she was no less than any normal sized person in the universe. Mrs. DiDonato always believed in her daughter’s full potential to be whoever she wanted to be. In my opinion, that’s how good mothers raise strong, empowered daughters. Mrs, DiDonato, I salute you. 🙂
Tiffanie’s bone-lengthening surgeries were indeed painful, and her recovery was difficult. But according to her, the fight with her doctors, the surgeries, and the struggles were worth it because she grew 14 inches, as a result. At 4’10”, she found the independence that she so craved. She’s also found her happily ever after with her normal-sized husband and adorable baby boy.
At times, the story becomes somewhat graphic when Tiffanie describes what she had to endure growing up. She underwent physical and emotional pain, but she used them to her advantage to belittle the negativity that surrounded her. Because of her decision to undergo the surgeries, she has been criticized as being “a disgrace to the dwarf community,” which I vehemently disagree.
This is a story about a woman who doesn’t like to be labeled. Like me, she doesn’t let her condition define who she is as a person. She is not a midget. She is not a little person. Contrary to the book title, she is not a dwarf. And for crying out loud, she wasn’t born with a disease. She is just Tiffanie, plain and simple. She is a source of inspiration that anything is possible as long as you believe in your dream.
This book really touched my heart. There were many moments where I had to stop reading because my eyes welled up with tears. I felt Tiffanie’s pain and anger. Fifteen years ago, I wrote an essay called “Someone Special.” In it I wrote about my own struggles as a short person. Though it was brought to my attention as a young child, I never opted to undergo multiple bone-lengthening surgeries. Like Tiffanie, there were a few ignorant people who told me that I was born with a “disease,” luckily they weren’t doctors. My parents taught me at a young age that my condition was nothing more than a gift from God, and that I am perfect in his eyes. It took me a long time to believe it, but I do. I didn’t choose to be short, but I am. I have my moments of sorrow, but I’m resilient. I wish we lived in a perfect world, but we don’t.
Through it all, I have fought to maintain a normal life and have learned to adapt. Do I still get stares from people whenever I’m out and about? Of course I do, though mostly from children. But I’ve learned to be like Victoria Beckham, put my oversized shades on and tune them out.
In addition to thinking about my own struggles growing up, I realized how far I’ve come. I can do many things on my own, and I’m amazed. I hope to follow in Tiffanie’s footsteps and find my happily ever after someday.
However in the meantime, I will continue to find my way by taking things one day at a time and being just Rosie. 😉