Words only have as much power as we give them. As the mom of a little person, I try not to give this one too much. Sometimes it’s hard.
I don’t even like to type the whole word or say it out loud. When I hear other people use it, I cringe. I feel my heart being tugged and not in a good way.
It’s degrading, it’s a slur, it’s disrespectful, and it stabs me in the heart each time I hear it spoken. Words have meaning and hold power whether we want them to or not. This one has been here for generations and still pops up today. It continues to be used in hurtful and discriminatory ways.
It’s also historical. There was a time when throwing this term around seemed okay. It was widely used, even by people of short stature. The word was just a word. Until it wasn’t. Along the way, this 6 letter word morphed into something much worse. It became hurtful and demeaning. It became a way to show someone’s worth and place in a society built for the average height person. It became something to fight against.
Midget, a word derived from the word midge, meaning “small, annoying fly” became a word used to target a population through jokes and laughter and a way to negatively point out physical differences. The word changed from a string of letters to a powerful message about how the world viewed people in the dwarfism community. So, the meaning changed. The definition has always remained but the context and meaning behind the word has evolved (and not in a good way).
In the early days of fairs and circuses, people with dwarfism were “hired” to be props and attract audiences. They were often displayed as “freaks” and treated as less than human. People paid admission to gawk at so called “midgets.”
Over the years, the term has been used on food labels, athletic team names, entertainment and as the punchline to many jokes. There are even social media groups created simply to post humiliating or inappropriate photos of little people and using the term midget in their title to attract followers. These groups are made for the sole purpose of making fun of people with short stature. People just like my little love. People. Humans. People of short stature have been fighting a very long time to have this word be removed from everyday language, youth sports clubs, entertainment tag lines, and erased from products and packaging.
In September of 2015 the LPA (Little People of America) made this statement: “Little People of America, the world’s oldest and largest dwarfism support organization and an international, membership-based organization for people with dwarfism and their families, advocates to abolish the use of the word “midget”. The word “midget” was never coined as the official term to identify people with dwarfism, but was created as a label used to refer to people of short stature who were on public display for curiosity and sport. Today, the word “midget” is considered a derogatory slur. The dwarfism community has voiced that they prefer to be referred to as dwarfs, little people, people of short stature or having dwarfism, or simply, and most preferably, by their given name.
When we surveyed our community about the usage and overall impact of the word “midget”, over 90% of our members surveyed stated that the word should never be used in reference to a person with dwarfism. As an advocacy organization, our charge is to take the lead in providing accurate and current information to the public when the “m” word is used erroneously, and often carelessly, as a description of a person with dwarfism. Whether the intention of the user of the word is used to bully and to demean, or just as a synonym for small, our collective experience shows us that language has the power to cause permanent damage to one’s self-esteem and identity.
We have made great strides in our advocacy with effective results. For example, major media venues, like the New York Times, have stopped using the term “midget” to refer to people with dwarfism. Over the years, LPA has educated politicians, sports figures and people in the entertainment industry regarding the improper and hurtful use of this word. Further, we have been in contact with schools around the country whose sports teams and/or mascots have the word “midget” in their names, encouraging them to change it. The word “midget” in use today has a negative, degrading, and mean-spirited feel and identity.
LPA can provide further educational materials about the history of the word “midget” and its evolution, advocacy resources, and support for you to help in the effort to remove “midget” from the everyday vernacular. Our collaborative efforts will put the word “midget” into permanent retirement, and have it join the ranks of other antiquated and hurtful terms that are not used anymore.
LPA and the USDA
The board and the membership of Little People of America (LPA), the world’s oldest and largest dwarfism support organization for people with dwarfism and their families, is strongly in favor of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposal to revise the United States Standards for Grades of Processed Raisins by removing five references to the term “midget” throughout the standards. On May 13, 2013, AMS received a letter from the Little People of America stating that we “are trying to raise awareness around and eliminate the use of the word ‘midget’.” The letter further stated that, “Though the use of the word midget by the USDA when classifying certain food products is benign, Little People of America, and the dwarfism community, hopes that the USDA would consider phasing out the term midget.” We are thankful that the USDA considered and listened to this important request.
The word “midget” is used as a derogatory slur to refer to people of short stature. Whether or not the intention of using the word is to bully and to demean, or just as a synonym for small, the term has been deemed a slur by those within the community and should be eliminated accordingly. In a recent organizational statement, LPA put forward a call to action to abolish the word from the everyday nomenclature and to replace it with synonymous designations when necessary. The proposal by the AMS supports this call and is a model for other entities that use the word “midget” as a designation to consider changing this language.”
Within the amazing group of parents I have come to know over the last couple of years, this topic comes up over and over. Just like me, they have concerns about their child’s future. They wonder how he or she will be treated by peers or by strangers. Will they feel safe enough to advocate for themselves? Will they have to be subjected to this word and other hurtful name-calling. We brainstorm often about the best way to educate, spread awareness and build our children up with enough strength and confidence to counteract the emotions associated with bullying and enduring experiences with ignorant or mean people. We try to focus on kindness and celebrating the amazing differences our children offer the world. Will that be enough?
A fellow POLP shared the following story with me. It is a perfect example of how carelessly the word midget is used today. As parents of LPs we understand not everyone is aware of the nature of this word. However, through education and spreading awareness, we hope you will think twice when using or hearing this word and pass on it’s history to make others understand. Help us make this word disappear.
This is Marlowe 💚
“I took Marlowe out in the stroller just a few minutes ago to go down to our leasing office. On the way back, I was waiting on the elevator and a couple of guys who were obviously moving in or at least part of a moving crew brought a load of stuff into the elevator room to wait on the elevator too. I was wearing a mask, but I obviously don’t put one on Marlowe because she would just pull it off at this point. (When we take her out in public we usually just pull down the “dream drape” on her stroller, but Marlowe doesn’t like not being able to see the world and you can usually find her lifting up the drape and peeking out at people.)
I turned and looked at the guy closest to me and, seeing both my mask and Marlowe peeking out from under the drape, he said “What, no midget mask?”
I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.
“Excuse me?” I asked incredulously, before realizing he just meant the little masks they make for kids.
He repeated himself.
Even though I knew he hadn’t meant it maliciously I couldn’t help the venom in my voice—
“My daughter has dwarfism.”
He took off his sunglasses, his eyes as round as saucers, and covered his mouth with his hands while starting to apologize profusely.
I responded with a biting, “Just don’t use that word anymore.”
He promised not to, obviously mortified, and Marlowe and I got in the elevator. The minute the doors closed, I started to cry.
Some day, someone will probably use that word referencing my daughter and have malicious intent. Today was not that day. But it was my first brush with the word in relation to Marlowe, and it was still jarring.
If you’re still using the word, even if you don’t mean any harm by it, stop using it. It’s a slur, and it’s demeaning.”
Another parent is working hard to help a company understand that using the term midget on their products is sending a hurtful and unsupportive message.
This is Chloe 💚
Chloe’s mom is currently on a mission to help eradicate labeling using the word midget to describe a product. She has initiated petitions, sent numerous emails and recently created a support page on social media hoping strength in numbers and education will keep the ball rolling and hopefully make change.
It takes a village.
As a POLP and an advocate, I am often asked the best way to address an LP. In my research and experience with other LPs, little person or person of short stature are the most widely accepted, followed by dwarf. Most LPs and POLP I’ve come to know do not feel comfortable with the term midget. The best way to address a little person is, of course, by his or her name. Labels aren’t necessary.
Here are some names and faces to brighten your day. These adorable, smart, strong, sweet and loving babies and toddlers are counting on us! They all deserve to be called by name 💚
Big brother also feels very strongly about this word and sadly has already had to deal with peers who throw it around easily and often. Sometimes he speaks up and explains why it’s a bad word in our house and other times he chooses not to. And that’s okay. He’s 9. He supports his sister and understands how the word midget affects others. He wanted to share some thoughts with all of you as well.
“Its a bad word and it’s like a swear. To people who are little people or have little people in their lives, in my heart it makes me really, really sad even when people use it to just talk about people who are small.
When a kid at school called a little girl the m-word just because she was small I felt really bad. Once he left I asked her if she was alright. She said yes.”
I’d like to ask for your help. If you see something that doesn’t support kindness and acceptance, please say something. Speak out. Speak up. Shut it down. Make it right. The M-word is just one word in a world full of demeaning and harmful labels. Don’t use it. Don’t allow it. Change can start with you!