Danielle Webb on Dwarfism: “Accept yourself. Embrace you.”

Danielle Webb with her book

You can surround yourself with the best people, the most loving support, but if you don’t accept yourself, then truthfully you’re not going to feel accepted where you are. The best advice I can give is to embrace it. Embrace you.

 

“I am 22 year old Danielle Webb. I live in Newport South Wales, where I currently work and study, but I’m from a town called Portishead, just outside of Bristol, UK. I grew up in an all-girls household with my Mum, Auntie and Nan, until moving out into a place with my Mum and her partner in my teens, then finally finding my own feet in 2019, and moving to Newport to focus on my studies.

I am studying for my MA degree in Working for Children and Young People. I am also a part time Student Recruitment Officer for the University of South Wales, the same University which I have studied at for the past four years.
I work as a Youth Worker and Youth Communications Officer for two organisations: G-Expressions and Urban Circle Newport.

Youth Work has always been a huge passion of mine and I would describe myself as very career focused. I always love working on new projects and can very rarely fully relax, but when I do, my biggest hobby is time spent with friends. I love adventures and making memories, but my biggest love is dance, something I have always loved since I was 5 years old, but even more so since the age of 16. I have found my spark for it again and in recent years have competed in national competitions and community events across Bristol and Wales.

Life with dwarfism
I am the only person in my family to have dwarfism and what many people don’t know is 80% of people with dwarfism are born to average height families. I was one of those 80%. So, until the age of 13, I was the only person with dwarfism that I knew and saw. And that, being a teenage girl especially, did bring challenges with my self-esteem.

I loved primary school. I loved learning – and still do, but primary school was great for me because my size wasn’t too noticeable. All children are small, so I didn’t notice too much and neither did my peers. I found making friends was very easy in primary school and learning was the main focus for me. In secondary school however, I was the smallest amongst 2000 pupils, even when I was in my final year – I was still the smallest. This was when I felt I really started to learn what life with dwarfism was like – and it was hard at times. I did experience bullying for a few years and found it very hard to find a circle in which i fitted in – like i think a lot of secondary school students do regardless of their physical makeup, but having a physical difference made that even more emphasised.

I had wonderful friends, who I still value to this day, but secondary school was hard. It was hard to focus on my education when it felt like there was so much focus on what I looked like on the outside. Sometimes it felt like I had to work harder than everyone else to prove myself. I’m not sure who I was trying to prove myself to, but that’s the feeling that being on the receiving end of bullying can give you sometimes – that sometimes just being yourself, isn’t enough – but this isn’t the case!

College and University then were big steps for me, but university especially was a time in which I felt i could really reinvent myself. I always had doubts of whether university was for me, because everyone around me who I saw achieving their life goals were all twice my height. I never saw people with dwarfism going to university. But becoming part of the organisation Little people UK shone a light for me that: we can achieve the same life milestones as everyone else; I saw people with my condition go on to become doctors, teachers, lawyers, something which I hadn’t been exposed to before, and it did give me hope, and the motivation to then move away from the negative aspects of my previous education settings and go out and chase the dreams of what i really wanted to do, and that was youth work.

Changes in public perceptions about

dwarfism
Dwarfism, I do feel, has become more accepted over the years – compared to my teenage years, yes as a whole I am much happier within myself and do feel part of the wider community, but a lot of that comes down to my own self-growth. As a society, I believe we still have work to be done. Personally, and whilst I know I am biased, I don’t see why someone being a different height to another person, should be looked at to any other extreme than someone who has a different hair colour, eye colour, shoe size etc. The only thing that separates myself from those around me, is I am about 2ft smaller. The rest comes from people’s perceptions and attitudes – that’s the real barrier, that dwarfism, along with many disabilities still are seen as something to be feared, and it comes down to a lack of education. People fear the unknown, and dwarfism is still that. Dwarfism is still not something which is seen on the same level as wheelchair users, or visual impairments. Even though 1 in 25,000 people are born with dwarfism – and to average height families, so truthfully, any one of us could have a child, or know someone who is affected, yet it’s still seen as something that is so distanced from what society deems as ‘normal’.

Self-confidence
Self-confidence is exactly what it says, and has to start from within. From someone who knows first hand, you can surround yourself with the best people, the most loving support – but if you don’t accept yourself, then truthfully you’re not going to feel accepted in where you are. The best advice I can give is to embrace it. Embrace you. The good, the bad, the ugly. That’s what I strive to do, and I don’t always get that balance right, but 90% of the time, I am a positive advocate for dwarfism, because I know and have understood now that dwarfism has made me who I am. Everything I have in my life, right down to my friendship groups, my job, my dance team, in some way, my dwarfism has led me to that, because dwarfism has led me to the person I am.

I don’t think I would have such a big passion for helping other people, and young people especially had I not experienced some of the challenges I did in my own adolescence – therefore, I count my dwarfism as a blessing, even more so because it’s led me to make some incredible friendships – through the charity I am involved in, Little People UK, it’s brought me to some incredible experiences. Yes, it’s brought its challenges, but ultimately it’s shaped my life out how it is – and once you start focusing on the bigger picture, that’s where you leave more room for the positives. Also, like my supervisor at work always tells me, ‘Do you, because there will always be people looking to rain on your parade in some way. You could be 4ft tall or 6ft tall, a size 8 or a size 18, everyone has their own insecurities, and everyone has experienced some type of discrimination, ignorance or such behaviors, from the outside world. Therefore do you. Because it’s always mind over matter, the people who are real and true don’t mind. The people who try to bring you down in any type of way- they don’t matter. Truthfully the only person whose responsible for your happiness is you – and we know ourselves what makes us happy – and that’s the same that can be said for anyone, dwarfism or not. We are more similar than we think and confidence is something that should be promoted in everyone, not just in those with protected characteristics or disabilities.

Representation in the media
As someone who has always loved dance, theatre and drama, representation is so important to me. Growing up, that’s the one thing I feel I didn’t have. As a dancer and performer, I felt that I could never go into the media industry . . . not unless I wanted to play one of Snow White’s Seven Dwarves or Tinkerbell. Even now, over the last couple of years, admittedly I have been offered various TV opportunities, but 9 times out of 10, I’ve turned them away because it has been clear I have been wanted not for my ability, but because of my physical makeup. Representation for disabilities as a whole…. has a long way to go! Massively. There is so much potential out there; people with dwarfism have talents like anyone else. Talents that if given the opportunity, are capable of more than just the typical ‘dwarf’ roles. Not to say these roles are bad, not in any way. I have friends who do panto, and I love nothing more than seeing them on stage – doing something they love to do, but is it any wonder that there is such a lack of education, especially with children, if the only time they are seeing dwarfs – are in a mythical or magical setting. Even in TV programmes, books, art, anything . . . I don’t see people with dwarfism represented.

In all of the books I had as a child, there were characters from different ethnicities and races, some characters with glasses, different hair colours, wheelchairs etc, but never one with dwarfism. As a child who was the only one in my family with dwarfism, that’s something that has an affect, and as a performer/dancer, it made me really question if dance was a path for me. Did people with dwarfism belong on a stage just as themselves? No costumes or mythical powers? It took me a really long time to overcome that – and to realise that the answer was yes, we do – and that’s something that I really strive to make a difference in, it’s one of the reasons I wrote my book, but also – it’s the reason I put so much into my blog and my social media accounts – now venturing onto TikTok and YouTube and visual platforms to share my journey, because there is more to our life than the media puts out there and people with dwarfism can and should have a platform to showcase what they want to do, without needing to try and ‘be’ a character other than themselves.

Her reasons for writing the book
My book, Mummy, There’s a New Girl was published just over three months ago. It is a book that highlights diversity and that it’s ok to be different. When a new girl joins the class, many of the children pick on her for her looks, but one brave little boy looks past her differences and learns that really – size is no big deal!

This is the book I wish I had as a child and even though, really, I’ve only been in the process of publication for about 9 months prior to it’s release, this started for me when I was sixteen. Studying childcare at college, I worked in so many settings over my years in training and was very fortunate to work with so many children and families in that time, but not once did I ever have a resource that helped me to educate children on why even though I was an adult responsible for caring for them, some of them were still taller than me. I needed something and It didn’t exist, so I wrote it myself and used it for five years as a learning tool, just on a PowerPoint presentation, and it wasn’t until 2020, through my own development and experiences did I begin to think that maybe, this could be something that could help others. It’s now published and it gives me great pride because there will never be a day again where a resource doesn’t exist. There will always be a book available now for children to relate to, for someone to see someone who looks ‘just like me’.

The book is available on Amazon, WHSMITH, Waterstones online – and also other small retail online stores.

To everyone out there
Educators, parents, whatever role you’re in, please have that conversation with your children, about diversity and about difference, not just dwarfism but of all kinds of differences. Start that conversation early, because it matters, and it does have an impact on your child but also on the people your children will meet later on in their life.

Whilst my book does focus on dwarfism, everyone can relate to being the new girl, everyone can relate to sometimes feeling like they don’t fit in, and everyone can relate to seeing someone, in class, at work, on the street etc., who looks different. Kindness and the message of accepting one another is something that everyone should value, even if you yourself is not directly impacted by dwarfism or disability.

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