Kristen DeAndrade

@kristen-deandrade | contributor
A passionista on a mission to shine a light on her firm belief that ‘Different is Beautiful,’ Kristen DeAndrade shares her journey of self-love through motivational speaking, her writing and her website www.littlelegsbigheart.com. Born with the most common form of dwarfism, Kristen is passionate about advocating for others who struggle with owning their story and the challenges that life can bring. With little legs and a big heart, she is spreading the idea of breaking barriers and erradicating stereotypes, encouraging you to, stop judging and start loving yourself and others. Kristen has appeared on several national television networks, including The Learning Channel and CBS Sunday Morning News, and was most recently published on Mind Body Green. Currently residing and shining her light in West Palm Beach, FL, Kristen can be reached via e-mail at: [email protected] Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/littlelegs.BigHeart or on Instagram as littlelegsbigheart.

Choosing to Educate When People Mock My Dwarfism

The road forks and I stand staring. From the beginning, I’ve said “no boundaries.” But this, this is hard. Am I doing the right thing? My heart and mind are intertwined in a wild game of uncertainty. Just when I think I have made strides towards progress, someone or something pushes me to the ground. Once I’m down, they give me a good kick or two. Good thing I have learned to bounce back. Not long ago, I put my fear of judgment aside and went to happy hour (at a whiskey bar) with someone I didn’t know. Call it what you will: a date. After moving to a new city, I needed to get out — to breathe, to communicate to have conversation that didn’t surround bone healing, x-rays and injections. “Normalcy.” Two people, transplants from the Northeast, different stories, enjoying an Old Fashioned and getting to know one another. I was proud of myself. The simple act of leaving my apartment has being challenging due to pain levels and getting a little too comfortable with discomfort. While in the middle of our conversation, my attention was drawn to a gentleman staring at me as he walked down the sidewalk (we were sitting outside) and the look on his face was one I knew all too well. Despite his attempt to camouflage his motive by asking for a quarter, my heart began to race. I barely know this person sitting across from me. Dear God, why now? Looking me straight in the eyes with a grin on his face, the stranger said, a little too loudly, “You’re a midget.” Gee, sir. Thank you for the compliment. Please tell me something I don’t know. My reply was something along the lines of, “I find that word offensive. I am a little person and my name is Kristen.” “Kristen the midget.” At that point, I told him, “No, thank you,” turned away and ignored him. Only to see the look of horror and awkwardness on my friend’s face. “Midget, midget, midget.” Apparently, repeating the word over and over made him feel better. And he continued to taunt me until my “new” friend forewent the ignoring tactic and told him to get lost. People were staring. One woman mouthed “I’m sorry” to me and then went back to her conversation. Embarrassed as all hell, I looked up at my friend and simply said, “Society can be very cruel.” He nodded and we quickly changed the subject. As upset as I was that night, I was also proud of myself. For one thing, I didn’t appear visibly disturbed by the man’s ignorance. And I didn’t cry or dwell on the situation when I got home. That’s huge for me. Moments like that have been known to ruin my days. The next morning, I walked across the street to watch the sunrise. Joined by a manatee, the events of the night before swirled in my mind. I have had the conversation with so many people — what is the “right” thing to do in a situation like that? Many have told me it isn’t my job to educate ignorant people. Really? Then whose job is it? For so long I struggled with a misconstrued image of myself due to misconceptions, negative ideas and judgments based on society’s ignorance. Because of how some little people are portrayed in the media, society assumes we are objects of ridicule. Those who have told me to just ignore the laughter and harsh comments have no idea what it’s like. So in the moments I am targeted for others’ amusement — moments that make my heart ache — I am supposed to sit back and act like everything is hunky dory? Ignore the person laughing, jeering and pointing in my face? Just do nothing? Accept defeat knowing well that I have the power to do something? To those who believe it is not my purpose to educate, I say, “You’re mistaken.” You are entitled to your own opinion, but please don’t tell me what to do. Until the day I die, I will stand behind my belief that denial doesn’t help the situation. I will never go quietly. Erase boundaries. That is what I and so many others are here to do. We are messengers of perseverance, tolerance, compassion and love. We deserve to be respected, we deserve to be heard and we deserve to be loved. No one’s differences should ever warrant ridicule or discrimination of any kind. Erasing these boundaries of adversity doesn’t happen by sitting back and watching. You have to be the facilitator, the doer, the educator. So this is my fight. My purpose. This mountain, the same one so many others face — I’m here to prove it can be moved. Because I believe that the greatest love comes from those who know no boundaries. You have two choices: turn on your heels and walk the other way, or join me. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo by OGri.  

I Am More Than My Dwarfism

I’m more than a statistic, 1 in 40,000. I’m a daughter and a sister. A woman living with dwarfism,  a condition some see as basis for ridicule. I laugh. I dance. There’s more to me than people know. I’m a lover. A fighter. A rule breaker. A woman determined to change how the world views different. Don’t judge my story by the chapter you walked in on. Some days I’m strong. On others, I throw my hands up. I have been through some serious shit and I don’t always let it show. I take on the world one day at a time with sass in my stride, glitter in my veins and love in my heart. I am rather dramatic, often talking with my hands. I am sassy. A woman who’s been kicked out of a bar for glitter-bombing the dance floor. Bubbles are one way to my heart; in a bath or a glass of champagne, please. Explosive, peeing your pants, I can barely breathe, laughter, fuels my confidence. When I laugh there are no boundaries; I am unapologetically myself, the boundaries separating me from society — erased. Height is just a measurement. I don’t care how long your legs are, you can only take one step at a time. My steps are small, thoughtful and backed by purpose. They constantly lead me further and further outside of my comfort zone. The result can be messy. And there is always magic within that mess. My scars tell a story. Superficial proof of perseverance. When I’m feeling rebellious – an extravagant tale of how I was attacked by a Great White shark might become my explanation to a stranger’s very concerned question, “What happened?” All in good fun, of course. What really happened is the story of a girl who began the pursuit of her future at the age of 12. Sometimes I get caught up in this story that I am stuck, with no way out. It’s never true; my inner light burns bright, showing me the way. Pain is something I am really good at, physical or emotional. I expect it. I tolerate it. I hide it. I know it. And now, I am taking full responsibility for it. I strive to motivate people, no matter what their story is, to stay positive in the face of adversity. A true story, one of authenticity, has the potential to heal as much as modern medicine. Connections are best made by revealing our weaknesses, challenges and failures; we all have them. My insatiable curiosity and desire for authentic connection are what fuel my love for friendship and helping others. I am an agent of change. I challenge the status quo. I am a yogi who is far from the mainstream individuation of a practitioner seen on present day social media.  These days, I have savasana down to a science and continue to paint the art of patience. My practice has taught me that perfection is ludicrous. What is perfect, anyway? Defining people instills limitations; putting them in a box, giving them a label. Yuck. I am beautiful, not in words or looks but by simply being. There are as many shades of different as there are of people. I am learning to ignore the harsh words, stares and laughing. I choose to embody an unf***withable, compassionate and loving spirit. I am dropping the judgment and embracing the now; what is. When downpours happen – I take the opportunity to feel and then dance in the rain.I am acceptance. I am perseverance. I am growth. My name is Kristen. I have little legs and a big heart. I am driven to change and I am enough. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo by contributor.

Pain Has Become My Biggest Teacher

One of my biggest teachers has been staring me in the face for almost my whole life and I’m just now realizing it. Better now than never, right? Typically we think of a teacher as a human being who has taught us something important. Whether it be learning material in school or a valuable life lesson – we apply these lessons to our lives. Pain. Noun. Physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury. We have all felt pain. Some of us deal with physical pain; maybe a result of disease or differences in ability. Some of us deal with emotional pain; the loss of a loved one, perhaps. Maybe you have been through a tedious process that has required so much of your attention, it dances between extreme effort and ease. Whatever it may be, I think it’s fair to say that our first instinct is to run from the hurt, put it on pause, do whatever it takes to remove our name from the line-up of pain participants. It’s scary and über uncomfortable. Pain, in all forms, is my prominent teacher. One that I have not been willing to learn from, until recently. Like most things in life, pain is a dichotomy. When the dark gets darker the light gets lighter. With whatever is bringing you down, find in it what makes you come alive. It’s a balance. The list of the negative emotions that arise alongside pain can go on and on. Avoidance. Disbelief. Resistance. Frustration. Confusion. Anger. Fear. All of which have seemed to be better options for me in the past. However, the more I turned to the unfavorable actions and emotions above, the more exacerbated the pain became. It was only when I invited my deepest, most intense discomfort in and cultivated the will to feel every ounce of it, no matter where I was or who I was with, that it finally began to ease up. Let it in and let it go. My avoidance has become tolerance. I have stopped shying away from the feelings that have the potential to label my day as a bad one. Tolerating the feelings removes the label, and allowing the pain to be burning, stabbing, throbbing or downright overwhelming is proof that it is felt. It’s there, yes, and it does not control me. On the days when the physical pain has me so exhausted that the best I can do is be horizontal and nourish my Netflix addiction, I do just that. It isn’t lazy. It is healing. When feelings of disbelief arise, I turn to hope. A new outlook fueled by the consistent reality that there is nothing I have except what is right now. For me, that is yoga. It’s what I have practiced for over 10 years. Beyond the physical postures of asana, my yoga, right now, is the ebb and flow of sensations in my body and how I choose to react. There is no turning back, so press on. With hope, pain has become not a road block, but a vital building block to a stronger me. The path is never permanently impeded. There is always another way. No more resistance. Acceptance. It’s walking straight into the mess and recognizing the beauty pain can uncover. Nothing is forever. Some days are just plain awful. Yet those darker days, when I accept them and allow them to be what they are, can reveal the positive. People… opportunities… and the love they uncover, arise. Say yes and go, do, be. Putting effort into what is practical, what can be done allows me to be forward-moving. So what can I (we) do? In the face of fear, be determined. Pain is a path. It must be traveled, experienced and understood if you want it to pass. The emotions that arise in response are normal. And they aren’t meant to stay. They come in, linger and then leave. E(motion)s : feelings meant to move through us in motion. I believe it’s best to stop talking yourself out of it, the pain. Allow it to teach you. Don’t place blame and try not to feel badly about current circumstances. You’re never alone. Feelings are to be felt, not suppressed. Be mindful. Acknowledge what is coming up and tend to it with compassion. You don’t need to know why. S l o w d o w n and respond to what your mind and body need. Clarity will follow. Smile, scream, cry, laugh, hug or ask for help. You’re in the driver’s seat. You choose. Pain and all the baggage that comes with it is something I am really, really good at — no matter what form it arrives in. I expect it, I deny it and I hide it. Now, as a full time student of pain, I am taking full responsibility for my actions (or lack thereof). So I continue to be me – authentic, non-conforming, always challenging the status quo and passionate about human connection. Some of us are put on this earth to walk the path of pain, take what we have learned and break things. Here I am, alongside so many of you, here to eradicate and abolish any and all stereotypes, boundaries and judgments in the face of pain. When we sit still, watch and just be with what is, we learn. Pain, thank you for being my biggest teacher and opening my eyes and my heart to the magic within the mess. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

When Asking Someone to Reach a Shelf at Whole Foods Felt Like Defeat

It happens; difficulty, struggle, challenge and pain. On this particular day, Whole Foods won the lottery as the place I happened to be when my candle, burning at both ends, nearly went out. It was one of those moments when my dwarfism became a source of indifference rather than a source of compassion. Usually I can make do obtaining things that are out of my reach or conquering other extraneous obstacles that stand in my way. It started early, as a kid. Scaling the counter tops in the kitchen, climbing my bookshelf, reaching the pantry shelves — whatever it was, I was able to devise a plan and conquer it. Sometimes I was successful on my first try and other times, not so much. As a child, though, my innocence shielded my struggle. Society hadn’t jaded me yet. Challenges made my confidence wobble, but I never gave in to feelings of complete defeat. One of my favorite memories goes back to elementary school. My best friend’s mom was a teacher and would give me rides to and from school in her giant Izuzu Trooper. To a little girl topping off around 3 feet 6 inches, getting into such a large vehicle was a bit of a challenge, but nothing I couldn’t handle. To get into the car I would open the door, put one foot on the running board of the car and then hoist myself up holding onto inside of the door. Then, using my washboard abs (what I would give to have those again), I swung my other foot into the car and pulled the door closed. Most of the time my plan was flawless. One day, I wasn’t quite in the car yet, and my friend’s mom began to drive away with me hanging onto the door. From the backseat, my friend and I both began to scream and laugh, and it wasn’t until her mom actually turned around to glance and notice that I was flailing in the breeze, hanging on for dear life. She eventually stopped, and I was able to get back into the car. I really did think it was funny. My little girl ego wasn’t scarred or embarrassed. One of the most terrible things anyone can experience is the indifference of others. As I got older, it became harder to habitually brush off society’s ignorance towards my stature. I began to lose the confidence and ability to laugh at any situation I once possessed. I was no longer that brave, confident little girl. The continual disregard for me as a person began to drown my positivity. As a grown woman standing at 4 feet 11 inches, reaching items on the top shelf in the grocery store continues to be a bit problematic. Usually I can climb the shelf or ask someone for help. Usually. It was just like any other typical shopping trip to Whole Foods. Go in for just a few items and waltz out having bought more than was necessary. As far as dinner was concerned that evening, I knew exactly what I wanted, and the hard taco shells were the last item I had to cross off my list. There I stood in the international food aisle, staring at the box of blue corn taco shells on the very top shelf… or maybe they were staring at me. Bottom line: in that moment, I wanted that box of taco shells, but getting them was going to be a challenge. My nonchalant attempt at climbing the shelves to reach them proved unsuccessful. I tried jumping, quickly, to avoid creating a scene. But I barely grazed the taco shell box with my fingertips. My next attempt was even worse. Pushing my shopping cart to the side, I opted for a more gradual ascent up the grocery store shelving. After securing one foot a spot on the bottom shelf, I thought I’d bought myself more leverage and hang time. Nope. I actually ended up pushing every box of taco shells further back on the shelf, completely out of my reach. My frustration was building. Looking to my left and right, there wasn’t a soul in sight. I’m was in the middle of Whole Foods on a weekday evening during dinner time, and there is no one else in the Charleston area who is having tacos for dinner! Am I the only one who celebrates Taco Tuesday around here?! Ugh. I didn’t want to give up, so I tried once more to get that box of organic blue corn taco shells off the top shelf. With one hand hanging onto the top shelf for dear life and a packet of taco seasoning in the other, I tried to swing the edge of the box closer to me using the seasoning packet. Fail. The harder I tried to reach those f*cking taco shells, the closer I got to my breaking point. My heart sank. I was angry and resentful. Why couldn’t this be an easy trip to the grocery store? My overgrowing frustration led me to consider another attempt. Right as I was about to put my foot on the third shelf from the bottom to boost myself up, I envisioned everything coming crashing down on top of me. There I stood, once again, my eyes now beginning to well with tears (I was so frustrated), and there was still not a person in sight to ask for help. Somewhere between the enchilada sauce and chipotle peppers, tacos no longer seemed appetizing. Whole Foods: 1, Kristen: 0. A box of blue corn taco shells caused me to fall victim to feelings of complete defeat. In the moment, my heart hurt. The thoughts of “Why me?” were whirling around in my head. Wallowing in self-pity, I wiped away the tears and turned to check out, forgetting about Taco Tuesday altogether. Before I had gotten a full step toward the register, a little old lady rounded the corner at a snail’s pace, talking on her Bluetooth. There I was, one hot mess, lingering in front of the refried beans, pickled jalapenos and taco paraphernalia. Slightly hesitant, I decided it was worth a shot to interrupt the woman’s conversation to seek her assistance in getting my top shelf prize. Trying my best not to be too socially awkward, I raised my hand (Who does that? This wasn’t a first grade classroom!) to get her attention. “Excuse me, ma’am.” She looked at me like I was about to ask her to write me a check for $1,000. “Could you reach one box of those taco shells for me, please?” She looked relieved. Without saying a word, continuing her conversation, she got the box of taco shells down, handed them to me with a smile and moseyed on down the rest of the aisle. Quiet enough not to disturb her conversation, I said, “Thank you,” because I was, indeed, grateful for her help. Blue corn taco shells safely in my cart, I couldn’t quite figure out how I felt. Asking for help can be hard. In that moment, I had two choices: allow my asking the woman for help to take make me feel powerless, or see it as proof of my strength and determination, and step into my power. With my mind continuing to create limitations, boundaries of separation I hated so much, even after I left Whole Foods, owning my strengths was difficult. Sometimes you just can’t help having the tiniest bit of resentment for being you. I found myself saying that I can’t, that I’m not good enough and life is just hard. Sigh. It happens. It’s normal. The more I resist those feelings, the more intense they become. I have learned to let them in and let them pass. My reality is that I don’t have limitations — I create them. Having this mindset of “no limitations, no boundaries and no separation” is a powerful one. It allows us to become unstoppable. The truth is that if we let them, our weaknesses can become our strengths. Our disabilities reveal abilities, our fears indicate our potential, failures are lessons learned and our challenges are mere roadblocks, not dead-end streets — if we allow them to be. Certain circumstances may be unavoidable, but our mindset, potential and success are created by us alone. Living with a “disability” (that is how some people may view dwarfism) isn’t always glitter and rainbows. Asking for help can sometimes feel shameful. The staring, laughing, pointing and rude comments hurt. Sometimes it isn’t as simple as “just brushing it off” and moving on. The pain and disappointment seep under my skin. It can be overwhelming at times. But I am allowed to feel sad, scared and angry. I’m human. I have feelings. And those emotions – they are valid. So are yours. In reminding myself that I am enough, I know it has nothing to do with me. I am a strong woman aware of society’s ignorance. But how long your legs are, who you love, how much money is in your bank account and who you worship should never be the basis for ridicule or judgment of any kind. It’s the size of your heart, your compassion and your determination that matter. I am not a sympathy seeker. In owning who I am and opening my heart, I am able to embrace my own vulnerability. This gives rise to courage and strength that sometimes I forget I possess. Sharing my vulnerability with others has brought me empathy, joy, love, the knowledge that I am enough and the hope that you realize that the same — you are enough. No sympathy necessary. Only gratitude. When we strip away the physical, we experience ourselves and each other for who we are. Each of us has known difficulty, struggle, challenge and pain; they happen. In being sensitive and accepting of this truth, we unite in love. We all have a choice, and those choices matter; whether it’s picking yourself up and starting over, moving on or asking for help. One of the most important choices we can make is to choose love and compassion, for ourselves and others. Indifference should never be an option. Kristen shows off socks that say “Perfectly me” Follow this journey on Little Legs. Big Heart .

Things I Prefer You Not Say to Me as a Woman With Dwarfism

Society can be fierce. I was born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, and learned at a very young age our society has a hidden, yet very specific set of standards outlining what or who is viewed as desirable, attractive and valid. Because I fall into the category of “being different,” my inabilities, decisions and actions hardly make it under the radar. When targeted at the profit of others’ amusement, my heart hurts. Denial doesn’t help the situation. By being open about how the words and actions of others make me feel, I’m fighting the good fight — educating, opening eyes, creating awareness and changing the dialogue society has about disability, disease and differences. As a woman living with dwarfism who has also undergone numerous surgeries, here are five things I would prefer you never say to me: 1. “Don’t let it bother you” or “Ignore them.” Bottom line: It bothers me. The staring, the comments, the laughing, the pointing — it hurts. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t say anything. Most of the time, I can brush it off and remind myself it has nothing to do with me. But there are moments when I simply can’t. It gets under my skin and I feel it in my heart. Don’t tell me that I shouldn’t let it bother me because, chances are, you’ve never felt the embarrassment of having to excuse yourself from the table at a restaurant to go into the bathroom and cry after falling victim to people outwardly being rude and inappropriate. Yes, it happens more than it ever should. Rather than telling me it has nothing to do with me or that those people don’t matter, just allow me to feel sad and angry. I’m human, I have feelings. Trust me, I know it has nothing to do with me. I’m a strong, empowered woman who is well aware of society’s ignorance. The fact that I’m strong enough to acknowledge and feel my emotions without projecting them onto others makes me a bigger person than those who choose to make themselves feel big at another person’s expense. 2. “You can’t.” As an adolescent, I longed to stand up and confront those who spurned me and doubted my abilities. But I couldn’t always do it. All of the negativity slowly dimmed my light, taking my self confidence down with it. Then I read a poem by Shel Siverstein that I took to heart. The more you tell me “no” or “you can’t,” the harder I’m going to work to prove you wrong. Not because I have to but because I want to. My height is not a measurement of my abilities. Some things may be more difficult or take a little bit longer to accomplish but nothing, in my book, is impossible. Until you have physically walked in my shoes, you don’t have the right to tell me that my dreams and aspirations are not feasible. 3. “Can I take your picture?” Yes, this happens, too. Unless you’re part of my family, a friend or a medical professional, the answer is an absolute NO. What hurts the most is catching people taking my picture without saying a word, let alone asking permission. I’m not a fairy tale, I’m not a statistic, I’m not my diagnosis, I’m not a label, I’m not your shorty, I’m not a midget. My dwarfism is not something to laugh at or mock, let alone document for your own personal keepsake. I’m a 29-year-old woman, and I have a heart and soul just like you. I have a big heart and I know how to use it. Yes, I am short and what I care most about is far bigger than I will ever be. So big that it can’t simply be photographed. It’s love. Love for me and for you — everyone. When we truly love, we are happy. The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, and we all play a vital role in each other’s. The next time you feel inclined to take a picture of someone who looks different, please don’t. Choose to smile, have a compassionate view of the human condition and celebrate different. 4. “Your situation is special.” What does this even mean? No one person’s story is greater than another’s. Different, yes, but never more valid or justified. There is never a reason to discredit yourself or anyone else for what they have been through and the challenges they have overcome. Damn straight my story is special. But guess what? So is yours. Height, race, religion, sexual orientation — I believe they don’t matter for anything in life. It’s the size of your heart, your willpower and your ​determination that help make you a better person. Choose to use your energy in positive, productive ways to uplift, encourage and love each other. Please don’t justify your negative attitude toward my abilities by telling me that I’m special. Just don’t. 5. “You did it to blend in.” I live my life according to my own values. I understand that we all see things differently, and I embrace the diversity that makes people individuals. In fact, I believe that diversity is what makes us beautiful. No one has any right to assume moral authority over anyone else. Never in my life would I fathom judging another person based on their decision to undergo a medical procedure that they believed would better their life. Everyone’s needs vary, and I respect that you live according to your principles. But you also need to respect me and my decisions like the one I made when I was 12. When other girls my age were learning how to put on makeup and pick out the perfect outfit at Abercrombie & Fitch, I had made the decision, with support from family and friends, to undergo limb-lengthening procedures. Believe it or not, my motivation was not the added height — that was a plus. I know it was the right decision for me, and I have no regrets. Here’s the thing: You can’t force your beliefs on others, and no one is in any position to decide what’s right and wrong for the rest of us. So please don’t tell me that I made the wrong choice or did it in order to blend in with society. For the rest of my life, I will be a bright splash of color on society’s ideal, yet lackluster canvas. Comments like “You can’t,” “You’re a midget,” “How could you?” and “Those people don’t matter” are inevitable for now. But I can and I will continue to stand my ground in this noble, well-intentioned battle. You can, too. The next time you find yourself forcing judgment upon another person, take a step back and imagine taking a walk in their shoes. We all have a choice. We can push someone down or we can lift them up. Choose the latter. Replace that judgment with love. It’s a cause for celebration, the beauty of difference. Join me. Put down the burden of pretense and be the person who helps someone else look forward to their tomorrow. Follow this journey on Little Legs. Big Heart. Lead photo source: Emily Whitaker

To the Woman Who Taught Me How to Love Myself

Dearest Elli, Most people say the words “thank you” without much effort or feeling. As a kid we’re taught to always say our pleases and thank you’s; it becomes automatic. Recently, I’ve put more thought into my words, thinking and speaking them with meaning. When desperate for help from a higher power, my please is honest and sincere. When I say thank you to someone, it’s from my heart. So to you, sweet goddess, I say, Thank you. The past is the past, this I know, but four years ago I was beyond oblivious to the work and the journey that was in store. If you asked me then about loving myself, my head would shake no, and I would utter nothing but words of confusion and denial. But then I strolled into the gym in downtown Charleston to find you. In the moment we met, as I was struggling in so many areas of my life, everything changed in the best way possible. This change was different. Through radical surgery, I’d already grown from 3’9″ to 5’0″ and I was now a woman, no longer a girl. But those changes were physical. This change, the one that sparked the moment I met you, began in my heart. “I love you” was nothing but a meaningless phrase to me. I was scared to love. Saying it to my family was one thing but to friends? Seriously? I don’t think so. Love myself? How? What did that even mean? So many uncertainties and so many questions; I didn’t even know where to start. Another phase of my surgical journey was about to begin and little did I know, our meeting was also the beginning of a sisterhood I will cherish forever. Week by week, you peeled back my emotional layers and kicked my ass. For the first time in a long time, I found comfort in pain. Pain is all I’ve ever known, but it was something I refused, ignored and feared. As each one of those layers fell away, the real me was exposed. Kristen. Kristen, the girl born with dwarfism. The sheltered, protected child afraid to grow up. The one people always point, laugh and stare at. Always excluded because she is little. The Kristen who listened to her heart and fought for her own independence. The same girl who continued to be unhappy with her body — scared, angry and sad. The woman who was constantly worried how others viewed her and chose to use self destruction as an outlet. Kristen, the 29-year-old woman who has finally begun to accept and fully understand her own story, how to love and how to forgive. That’s me. This journey of love, acceptance and forgiveness has just begun. The more I own this path I’m on the more connected I feel. A path of no regrets, just lessons learned. One with tears, laughter and glitter along the way. Even though this is my journey, for the first time, I have an accountability buddy — a guide, a confidant, a soul sister. A person I never dreamt of knowing until you walked into my life. Elli, you’ve been a most extraordinary, beautiful mirror for me — reflecting things back that I’ve never seen in myself before. How to love, dream, accept, forgive, let go and just be raw. You’ve taught me that acceptance and change go hand in hand. You brought love back into my life. You taught me how to love myself. What you have is a gift. Your gift is invaluable — a never ending bag of glitter. Everywhere you go, you reach in and sprinkle a little bit of that sh*t on everyone you meet. I see it and it is amazing. Thank you for being you. A radiant, strong, compassionate, fun-loving woman. A woman determined to change the world, one person at a time. Thank you for being a constant inspiration and always fighting for me. For listening, sharing, feeling and trusting. Keep spreading your magic, Elli. I know that just as I’ve been experiencing pain and heartache, so have you. You’re beautiful and strong and just as you’ve told me before… God, she has us. And I want you to know I will always hold a space for you. Always. Here’s to our future travels, never giving up, speaking our truth, witnessing miracles and practicing love. With abundant gratitude. I love you. Always, Kristen For all of November, The Mighty is celebrating the people we don’t thank enough. If you’d like to participate, please submit a thank you note along with a photo and 1-2 sentence bio to community@themighty.com . Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .

Dear Society, Why Don't You See Different as Beautiful?

Often I feel as though I get so caught up in the flow of life that what is most important gets put on hold. Moments flee by, and I barely have a second to react. But then something stops me in my tracks. One particular incident ignites a spark, opens my heart and reminds me who I am and why I’m here. Lately, society has been testing me; difficult situations bringing clarity as to why my presence on this earth is so important. My physical body — what sets me apart from everyone else — is a gift and also the essence of my message. Paired with an intermittent yet unwavering ability to stand up for myself and desire to spread the message that Different Is Beautiful, my heart and soul break open, wanting to be heard. That is what recently prompted this open letter to society. *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          * Dear Society, Why has different become so intolerable in your eyes? Are you aware that your fierce tendencies of singling out individuals with any disparity, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, are cause of hurt? As a child, I was always told our world would become an incredibly boring place if we were all the same, and I still believe that to be true. Often times you insist you’re accepting of anyone and everyone, but are you really? Through my eyes, I see standards set for everything — an endless set of obtuse guidelines outlining how one can be viewed as desirable, attractive and valid. In adhering to them, people allow these criteria and rules to not only define who they are but also dictate how they live their lives. Why? Because everything has the potential to be perfect? Perfect, meaning we would all be the same. Skinny but not anorexic. Tall but not a giant. Wealthy but not obnoxious. Lovers but only with those of the opposite sex. That’s not perfection but deficiency — people unable to be who they are for fear of judgment, rejection and abandonment. The word “perfect” is ambiguous, with everyone’s idea of perfection varying. My body certainly isn’t perfect. It doesn’t even come close to adhering to any definitive standard. You see, I was born different. I have achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. Compared to the average woman my age, I’m short. My arms and legs are slightly disproportionate to the rest of my body and according to most, this defines me and often times can merit specific labels I find offensive. This idea of perfection is a smokescreen clouding everything that makes me unique — my accomplishments, my dreams, my story, all of which also make me a beautiful human being. No one else in this world has walked in my shoes. When you think about the enormous complexity of such a phenomenon — that everyone has their own inimitable story – that alone is beautiful. This criterion we call perfection is ever-changing. Physically, I will never fall under such a namesake. My body is the way it is. Period. As an emotional and spiritual woman, I choose to look beyond the physicalities and do what lights me up — not what makes the majority happy. Besides, there is no one way to achieve beauty. Something better will always emerge: lifestyles, clothing, procedures, opinions. I’m fully aware that I cannot prevent these ideas of perfection from evolving. They will always be present. But, society, your casting a negative light on any person who’s different and expressing it as repulsive, is hurtful. When I was a child, while everyone my age was learning to tie their shoes, ride a bicycle and say their ABC’s, I was learning that there was always going to be that person who was going to discount me because of my height. That time I went home crying because a classmate made others laugh at my expense was not going to be the last. People, even strangers, were going to force the phrase, “You can’t,” into my vocabulary because my adapted way of doing something was incorrect. These judgments became evidence to support your theory that I will never be good enough. My short stature, according to you, always warranting name calling, laughing, pointing and staring. Why? Simply because I look different. Alice Keeney / AliceKeeneyPhotography.com At first, I was angry and sad, slowly allowing such harsh attitudes and judgments to stifle my light. But in realizing that dimming my happiness was allowing you, society, to win, I said, “Hell, no.” That extra weight on my shoulders was not going to slow me down. If anything, it’s fueled my fire, causing my light to burn brighter. As a result, I’ve been gifted a softer heart. My reaction to this derision is not one of retaliation but sadness — for you and your ignorance. More than anything, I wish to open your eyes and convince you to change your perspective. What if you began to see that anything different makes everything beautiful? What if we all stopped with the judgment and replaced it with love? Let’s erase these standards of perfection and embrace who we are inside and out. Take the time and look a little closer before you are too quick to judge. In doing so, when you look at me, you would see that despite my different-ability, I’m a radiant, passionate, loving human being. As a woman living with short stature, I refuse to identify myself as anyone other than Kristen. A little person. An ambassador of love. A passionista and a dreamer. Lover of laughter, dance parties and hugs. Unafraid to show my sassy side. My personality making up for what I lack in inches. A woman determined to change how you view different, because different is beautiful. I see love and kindness like glitter, and I’m going to continue sprinkling that sh!t everywhere. My belief is that those of us living with a handicap (or different-ability, as I prefer to call it) are put on this earth to make things exciting and spread the message of no separation. Although viewed as different, we are messengers of perseverance, tolerance, compassion and love. We deserve to be respected, we deserve to be heard and we deserve to be loved. Anyone’s differences should never warrant ridicule or discrimination of any kind. Strength comes in numbers, you know. Poet Ryunosuke Satoro said it best: “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” Collectively, with more radical acceptance and kindness, we can do anything. Where there is distance, there is resistance, fear, sadness and anger. Perhaps you can drop the judgment and your seeing anyone not abiding to your paradigm as unworthy of love and respect. Society, I encourage you to choose love. Have a more compassionate view of the human condition as a way to welcome what is rightfully so: we’re all different. Recognize these differences as bright splashes of color on what would be a lackluster canvas. Be open to beauty of all kinds. Think of it as a celebration. This life, the only one we are given, it goes by quickly. The more we focus on our visions; what makes our heart sing and puts our mind at ease, the more we erase hatred and unite into love. Stop judging and start loving. Perfectly imperfect is in. Authenticity cannot be bought. When you peel away the superficial, outside layers, we all experience pain, have dreams, know joy; inside, we are one. You can love different just as you love yourself, no matter what. After all, love knows no barriers and Different Is Beautiful. With Love and Gratitude, Kristen This post originally appeared on Little Legs, Big Heart. Celebrate different. Like us on Facebook .