I like the show, Little People Big World. I like it because it's first a show about people, a family, that is done in a true documentary way. There isn't any interference from the show makers to create some lively drama, no artificial situations...or at least it doesn't appear to be. I like it second because it's a show that teaches me about a way of life I wouldn't otherwise know anything about.
I find myself alternately surprised to consider something little people have to face and sympthetic because I know how something feels (e.g., parenting issues, life situations, remodeling challenges, time management and balancing acts, etc.).
If the Roloffs' intent was to demonstrate that (and I loosely quote something repeated at the beginning of each show) little people can do everything anyone else can do, just in a different way, they've succeeded. If they want people to get to know them, and have the show morph from a program about little people into a program about people who happen to be little, then they've succeeded.
Still, I can't help but think that the lily is a little gilded.
In one program, the microphone caught some idle chatter that was troubling. Amy was hosting a post-preschool graduation reception at the gorgeous Roloff farm. One mother was describing her daughter's and her own first impressions of Amy, that is, Amy as a dwarf. The mother was using that light, jokey tone when she said, "She kept coming home telling me she was taller than her teacher, and I thought..." insert nervous laughter.
Amy said, "You thought..." and the mom interrupted and said, "She was..." Amy spoke, "Yes?" The mom laughed, somewhat nervously again, "I thought she was crazy or else her teacher was a..." And Amy said, "Little person. Excuse me." Amy walked away. Amy has a somewhat dry and practical tone most of the time, so it was pretty hard to tell what she thought.
Good grief, what an odd conversation to choose to have with one's host. Whatever happened to Abraham Lincoln's concept of, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
What possible purpose did that entire conversation serve?
Was it the height equivalent of, "Oh not to be racist but..."
Was the mom nervous? Ought I have pity for her (misguided) attempt to show she was acknowledging Amy's dwarfism but "cool" with it?
See, that sort of thing---joking like that---indicates to me that a person is not actually cool with it.
I don't make comments about height. It's a button for me. In fact, I don't like to make comments about the most obvious thing about anyone, not straightaway...especially about something that is simply how a person is made.
It's not usually very cool (who wants their most prominent feature--good or bad---immediately noted out loud, and commented upon?) and it's frequently teasing. I generally find teasing a vicious tool of bullying.
I doubt anyone would sanction a comment like, "Hey you must have a great sense of smell with a nose that big!" or "Hoo YA what a rack!" or "I bet you have no balance problems with those huge feet!"
Therefore, I don't think any conversation with another person---especially one you don't know well---needs to center around the most prominent physical feature of that person, even if done somewhat kindly.
A person's physical being is---although fairly available for public viewing---still a somewhat private thing. If we aren't close, and don't know one another well enough to know exactly where the bull's eye on the target is, then any comment on the physical---that being features of yourself that you cannot control, and were simply born with---have a high possibility of straying way off target, regardless of how it is intended.
Yeah, it's personal. As a woman who happens to be very tall (the exact opposite problem of Amy Roloff) I have no patience for the comments, nor do I have it for the commenters...who are typically men, and even more typically men shorter than me who lie about their height.
"How's the weather up there? Bwahahahaha."
"You must play basketball. Bwahahahahahaha."
"You're one long drink of water! Bwahahahahaha."
"How tall are you, anyway?"
"I guess you never get to wear high heels!"
"I feel so short next to you!"
And on and on.
For the record:
* The weather at 5'10" is the exact same as it is for you, at 5'7"
* I don't play basketball. It's not a lack of physical coordination or ability (I have been known to acquit myself fairly well); it is instead a total miss on the mentality required for competitive sports.
* I believe the average human is comprised of 60 percent water (70% of the brain, 90% of the lungs, and 83% of blood) and this is static regardless of height.
* I am exactly as tall as I am, as my genes designed me. If you must know more (and it is clear that you must), I am 5'10" and A HALF. Do you need to know my measurements, as well? You hand-tailoring clothing for me? Otherwise, I can't possibly imagine what business it is of yours...unless...you are a man shorter than me and the next reply from you is, "NO WAY! I'm 6' and you are taller than me. You must be 6'4" AT LEAST!" In which case I say, "Sure...I must be 6'4" at least because you are definitely 6' tall. Sure. Okay. I'll make sure to notify my doctor at my next physical."
* I do wear high heels, however, as rarely as possible. They are uncomfortable, and don't work well with the reflexive sympathy dystrophy. When your nerves don't carry the appropriate messages and signals for your muscles, it can get a little dangerous to walk. High heels just make it worse. However, this isn't something I like to talk about. It's nearly impossible to explain without sounding like a shameless plea for pity. Or a conversation trump card: hello, I have a disability and don't you feel like shit now! Ha! Who wants to be that way. Not me. So then I'd have to go into the brave, brave me show and all the work and so forth I do to keep it managed. UGH. Just believe I am too ashamed to wear high heels since I am already so tall. Much easier.
* This one stumps me. Is this a problem? Do you want to go stand next to someone else?
In any case...I can't imagine why anyone would ever say anything like this.
I'm supposed to laugh, smile, play along, be a good sport because they don't (consciously) intend any harm, right? I usually do just laugh, smile, play along, be a good sport. Now and again, though, I'm in the wrong mood, or it's the wrong person, or the comment is so egregious that I respond with sarcasm. Instead of any kind of apology, all this nets me is, "Hey, you should take it as a compliment, a lot of people would kill to be so tall. You need to be okay about your height."
I am okay with my height, actually. I've lived long enough with it to see the pros. But, as with everything, there are cons, too, and it can be an aggravation. And these sorts of comments are one of the bigger ones.
And the notable absence of such on Little People Big World make me wonder. Has the show been sanitized? Or does it just not happen as much?
I don't get too many comments these days.
I'm not in school, going to clubs, or working in an office---the most likely places. But I'm also older, and it's post-PC.
Have most people cleaned up their acts?
Or have I just gotten better at avoiding Those Sorts in general, or does it roll off my back better so that I barely take note?
The truth is, no, my tallness isn't any kind of disability and I'm not even trying to compare it to dwarfism. I'm just saying that if we look within our own life it doesn't take much, I suspect, to find something to draw upon for a basis of understanding why one just would not make a joke about how someone looks, especially if it is out of the ordinary.
Differences aren't to be ignored as if they don't exist, but they aren't to be in the limelight either, as if it is the most prominent feature of the person within, just because it is the first thing you notice. It's not something to be studied or probed, joked about, or feared. I'd say see it, then look past it. Use intuition to determine how to proceed, and use good manners until you have enough information.
Two people have caused me to think long and hard about this: Matt Roloff and Rob R-H.
Rob is a blogger I've read for gosh, probably more than a decade. I found Rob's online journal when there weren't many online journals, and I read and kept reading as he detailed his life, all its changes, and his thoughts about the world. He's one of the most engaging writers I can think of. Rob has transitioned his journal many times, until now when it finally morphed into a blog called Schyler's Monster: The Blog. This blog---unlike his previous journals---focuses itself solely on his parenting. He had two recent posts---both very moving---about differences:
One episode of Little People, Big World focused on Matt's nonprofit group, Coalition for Dwarf Advocacy. In the show, Matt was facilitating having CODA cover the legal fees for a family adopting a young boy with a type of dwarfism. Matt provided a tremendous amount of education about issues little people face in a world built for average height people and physical problems little people might have to deal with (such as this young boy who was on an oxygen tube). He was very inspirational about children with a form of dwarfism who seek families.
We never can walk in another person's shoes. So some toe-stepping is inevitable. I'm an insatiably curious person and trust me, I make many gaffes when my curiosity overwhelms my good manners and judgment.
Still, since I judged her, it's fair enough to ask me what I would have done in that mother's shoes when talking to Amy Roloff.
I hope I would be gracious and lovely, say something along the lines of, "Your farm is simply lovely. Thank for for sharing it with us for this special event. So generous...so wonderful...thank you."
But I might babble nervously about what struck me most, but in all sincerity that would be the fact that the teacher invited the entire class and families to her beautiful, dream of a farm. I promise you the foot in my mouth would more likely be, "Wow, it's just so awesome you invited everyone here. It's so beautiful. I would just be too overwhelmed to have so many people at my place, I don't know how you do it." I hope I'd stop before the last sentence, but you know, we all misstep now and again.
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert