On a rainy day in May 2018, Rebecca Elizabeth Kennedy graduated from Bridgewater State University in Southeastern Massachusetts. It had been a long road. Several years earlier she had earned an associate’s degree from Landmark College in Putney, Vermont, which helps students overcome their learning disabilities. In Becky’s case, her learning issues may be related to her dwarfism. She was twenty-five by the time she walked up to the podium at Bridgewater — not especially old for a newly minted college graduate, but older than many of her peers. She was ready, finally, to begin the next phase of her life.
In the course of writing Little People more than fifteen years ago, a theme I returned to repeatedly was our hopes and expectations that Becky would be able to lead a normal, fulfilling life. She has. After graduating, she moved back home with us (not permanently, she insists). She drives a car outfitted with pedal-extenders. She is getting involved in our church and meeting new people. She is diligently looking for work. And though she knows she faces discrimination from prospective employers who assume she will not be able to meet the physical requirements of whatever job she is applying for, she keeps at it. In fact, she received an offer just recently, something she and we are pretty excited about.
For the purposes of this book, perhaps the most important change in this, the third edition, is that her own voice is now being heard. I asked her to write the Foreword, and she has done what I think you’ll agree is a wonderful job of expressing what it has been like to grow up with dwarfism, the challenges that come with it, and what it’s like to have your father write a book about you. I am thrilled to be able to offer her perspective. Her degree from Bridgewater is in English, and she aspires to write for a living. She is off to a good start.
Our lives are very different compared to the early 1990s, from which much of the emotional energy of this book derives. Back then, Becky was fighting for her life as she struggled to overcome breathing problems, a consequence of her having been born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. By the time she was three years old, though, she was fully recovered and has enjoyed good health ever since. She is four feet tall, with exceedingly short arms and legs, and she sways from side to side as she walks. Yet her dwarfism, though hardly an inconsequential part of her life, does not define her.
If our lives have changed over the past few decades, so, too, has the way dwarfism is depicted in popular culture. When Becky was a baby, there was the occasional magazine or television success story about a little person making his or her way in the world. More frequently, though, were stories about Hank the Angry, Drunken Dwarf, a sidekick of Howard Stern’s who has since died. Or midget wrestling. Or midget porn.
Those negative portrayals have all but disappeared. A few years ago you couldn’t flip through the cable channels without coming across TLC’s upbeat series of reality shows on people with dwarfism — Little People, Big World, starring Matt and Amy Roloff, whom I have known for years, and who were interviewed for this book; Little Chocolatiers; and my personal favorite, The Little Couple, whose co-star, Jennifer Arnold, was a pediatrician who was profiled in one of the first magazine stories I read about dwarfism after Becky was born. Peter Dinklage, an actor with dwarfism who has starred in movies such as The Station Agent and in HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones, has emerged as a far more positive representative of the dwarf community than poor Hank.
And yet the forces of reaction are real. Little People is not a political book. But after eight years of the Obama presidency, a time when we began to take it for granted that an African-American president was in the White House and when tremendous strides were made in areas such as same-sex marriage and transgender equality, it is impossible not to observe that we are now dealing with a very different reality. President Donald Trump has denounced in hateful terms Muslims, immigrants, and anyone who dares to oppose him. He mocked a disabled journalist while a crowd of supporters hooted in delight. In 2018 he even appointed a judge to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals who had written several times in support of the humiliating and dangerous practice of dwarf-tossing, arguing that it was a matter of personal choice — never mind that it puts the person tossed at risk of serious injury and holds an entire class of people up to ridicule. For people with disabilities and other differences, this is truly, as Dickens put it, the best of times and the worst of times.
From its inception, this book had two intended audiences: families affected by dwarfism and other disabilities, whom I hoped could learn from our experiences; and a wider readership that might be interested in the history, culture, and science of a rare and little-understood condition.
My original publisher, Rodale, allowed Little People to go out of print a number of years ago. The second edition, which I made available through print-on-demand technology, was released in 2010. This third edition is virtually unchanged except for this Introduction and Becky’s Foreword. Additional content is available at www.littlepeoplethebook.com, where you can find photographs, reviews of and feature stories about the book, and essays about dwarfism that I have written over the years.
Difference creates community, and by far the most rewarding aspect to having a child with dwarfism has been becoming part of the dwarf community — as interesting and engaging a group of people as I have known. We would not have chosen dwarfism for our daughter. Yet we are grateful for the friendships she has made through Little People of America, the leading organization for people with dwarfism and their families. Little People is not just our story, but theirs as well.
West Medford, Massachusetts