I've been laughed at for my dwarfism – Ellie Simmonds' Strictly debut is huge

I've been laughed at for my dwarfism – Ellie Simmonds' Strictly debut is huge


Last Saturday, 24th September, 15 new couples took to the dancefloor for the newest series of Strictly Come Dancing. 

Admittedly, I am not a devoted fan of the show, but was excited to see one contestant in particular. 

As a woman with dwarfism, I was thrilled to see swimmer Ellie Simmonds, the winner of five paralympic gold medals, as one of the contestants. 

Dwarfism is rare and how we are represented matters. Yet, growing up, I never saw anyone with dwarfism in an everyday role, or on a show where talent was necessary. 

I was only ever used to seeing them in roles where their height was entertainment (for example: the ‘Seven Dwarfs’ in Snow White, Austin Powers’ Mini-Me and the Oompa Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). 

While these characters shared the same condition as me, I could hardly be expected to relate to them. 

They weren’t characters to admire, but rather to try and make people ashamed of dwarfism.

From the freak show to the pantomime, cultural representations of dwarfism have influenced people to believe that we are nothing more than novelties who are only capable of using our height for entertainment purposes. 

Anything else we are seen as incapable of doing, which is why I was not surprised to hear that internet trolls have been targeting Ellie online: they’re apparently deeply confused as to how a person with dwarfism can dance. 

Of course, online abuse, as well as abuse in public is nothing new for people with dwarfism. 

Being laughed at or asked if we are Happy or Grumpy is not an unusual experience for someone with dwarfism. 

Being stared at or mocked is a common experience ever since childhood. Only the other week, when I was walking my dog did a man shout ‘midget freak’ when he saw me.  

The trolls targeting Ellie are probably confused as to how a person with dwarfism can be talented, when most are probably only used to laughing at them in some form of low brow entertainment. 

One time a woman came up to me with her young daughter and told me how she found people like me hilarious.  

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There are even companies which actually allow people to hire out ‘their very own dwarf’ for events like stag dos. 

When I heard about Ellie being trolled, I was saddened but far from surprised. 

As mentioned, people commonly experience abuse and thus any news story is only going to attract them. Trolling seems permissible on social media, especially with its poor regulations and thus some people know they can get away with it. 

Any fight for equality will always be met with abuse from those who wish to continue to see us as inferior.

Of course, Ellie is not the only dancer on Strictly who has helped to provide a better understanding of disability. 

Rose Ayling-Ellis, winner of the last series, helped to raise awareness about deafness. Rose often incorporated British Sign Language (BSL) into her dances and by wearing her hearing aids helped to make Deaf children more confident about wearing theirs. 

Ellie has been partnered with professional dancer and choreographer Nikita Kuzmin, who has helped to show that, with a little imagination, size does not matter when it comes to dancing. 

Ellie and Nikita energetically danced the Cha Cha, and scored 26 out of 40, putting them in joint second. 

However, some of the show’s 6.8 million viewers still couldn’t see past Ellie’s height, with comments online that her and Nikita were ‘awkward to watch’ because of the height difference or that because of her disability, Ellie would end up getting the ‘sympathy vote’.  

However, when it came to the judging, she seemed to receive similar constructive criticism as the rest of the contestants, such as their timing being slightly off. If Ellie was to receive ‘sympathy’, then that is an issue to take up with those giving it. 

I hope that in future episodes, Ellie receives the same criticism and applause as any other contestant.

However, for those still confused – or feeling awkward or upset that Ellie may receive the ‘sympathy vote’ – then you can simply watch something else. 

When I saw Ellie on Strictly, I felt pleased to see a more positive representation of dwarfism. 

Yet, my excitement at seeing just one person with dwarfism being presented so admirably demonstrates that we still have a long way to go.  

We do not know yet whether Ellie Simmonds will make it to the Strictly final – but I’m not sure it matters. All I know is that her appearing on the show at all is a great achievement and is another step in gaining equality for people with dwarfism. 

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