Everyone seems to be fascinated by dwarfism, the condition that results in short stature. Case in point: the reality shows Little People, Big World (which follows the Roloff family on TLC), The Little Couple (another TLC show that follows a couple with dwarfism), and Little Women: LA (a Lifetime docu-series about six women with dwarfism living in Los Angeles).
Thanks to one man, now anyone can see how hurtful, rude, and just plain annoying that fascination can be for people who actually have this condition. Using a hidden camera, 22-year-old Jonathan Novick recently taped his encounters on an average day in New York City, and uploaded his documentary “Don’t Look Down on Me” to YouTube.
With more than 1.6 million views, the video has attracted attention—and for good reason. In just one day, Novick caught several people snapping cellphone photos of him, and recorded even more people making rude and insensitive comments—some right to his face.
“It can become routine in a way where you start to kind of live with it,” said Gary Arnold, president of the Little People of America. “What Jonathan did is so cool because it shows other people with dwarfism this is something you shouldn’t have to live with.”
In case you couldn’t tell from the video, here’s what NOT to do around little people:
Don’t use the “M” word
Some prefer the term “little person,” while others would rather use the word “dwarf,” but both are generally considered inoffensive. The one word you should never, ever use: midget. As Jonathan mentions in the video, it’s offensive and inaccurate. The word actually traces back to the days of side shows in the 1800s, when it was used to refer to short-statured performers for public amusement, according to the Little People of America. So no matter how you use it, “midget” will always be derogatory in nature.
Don’t treat little people like objects
People tend to forget that dwarfs are, you know, actual human beings.
“Two people might be near a dwarf and make comments within hearing distance as if looking at an animal in the zoo,” Arnold said.
You should also be mindful of how you address a person with dwarfism. Say you’re at a business lunch: you probably wouldn’t appreciate it if your client asked your colleague what you’d like to order rather than asking you directly. So if you ever find yourself at a table with a dwarf, you shouldn’t do that to him or her, either. This is a common occurrence, Arnold says. Avoid acting like they can’t handle themselves or make their own decisions.
Don’t assume all dwarfs are the same
In the video, a stranger compared Jonathan to Zach Roloff, who stars on the TLC reality show Little People, Big World. Thing is, just because they’re both small in stature doesn’t mean they’re the same person.
“As with most minorities, people tend to associate one of us with the rest,” Arnold said.
Plus, there’s more than one type of dwarfism. Like Arnold, both Jonathan and Zach have achondroplasia, which is one of the most common types and is characterized by an average-sized trunk, short arms and legs, short fingers, and a large head. Still, more than 200 types of dwarfism exist. Some little people may never receive a definitive diagnosis, according to the Little People of America. Bottom line: every little person is unique, just like everyone else.
Don’t take pictures without asking
In Jonathan’s video, strangers on the street and in a subway station casually snapped photos on their phones as he walked by. You surely wouldn’t like having random pictures taken of you on the street, so it’s best to avoid doing it to others just because they’re small. (Or for any other reason.)
“When you get down to the heart of the reason why the picture is being taken, it’s probably not for the best of intentions,” Arnold said.
And know that sometimes asking to take a picture with a little person can be offensive, too. “If someone can’t give me a reasonable answer, then I decline,” he says.
Don’t shout things at them
Jonathan’s secret camera recorded strangers yelling “short stuff” and “little midget” from afar.
“It’s understandable if people are curious, but to shout things out just seems deliberately vindictive,” Arnold said.
A better idea: ask questions. At the end of the day, having a conversation with a little person about their condition directly will go over a lot better than calling things out at them. Better yet, you may just learn something new you didn’t know before.