People with dwarfism are often misrepresented in popular media and culture. Yet our own voices are rarely heard. That’s why we embarked upon the RGA Dwarfism Role Models project – to amplify the voices of figureheads in our communities. To mark the start of Dwarfism Awareness Month 2018, we spoke with Kiruna Stamell, actress and disability rights activist. Here’s what we learned.
Please introduce yourself: who are you and where are you from?
Hello, I am Kiruna. I was born in Sydney. I grew up on Bondi Beach and my school was very much like ‘Heartbreak High’, if anyone remembers that show. I’m now a British Citizen living in Birmingham, married to my cockney husband.
And what do you do?
I am an actress and disability rights activist. I always get nervous saying ‘actress’ because people make lots of assumptions about the kind of work I do. I do my best to avoid stereotype and ‘dwarf’ tropes. I want to explore what makes us human and bring truth to the stories our society tells. I see my role as an actress to play the kinds of roles I needed to see on television as a little girl with dwarfism, who saw nothing but derogatory representation and dehumanising ridicule.
Do you enjoy it?
It has been a hard road with very little security. I do love it. I love it very much, especially shows like Play School. I realise my character just being present and having a different body to the ‘ordinary’ is still a radical act in our society. I want to just be there and play a truthful, whole person – just as everyone in real-life does.
How did you end up doing it?
I kept on keeping on: maintaining the integrity of my choices, training and going to university, so I always had choice to leave if I couldn’t do it my way and with my own truth and voice.
Practice, practice, practice… lots of coffee meetings. A bit of luck. Listening to those who rejected me and finding the clues that brought me closer to those who accepted me.
If you were 21 again, would you do something different?
No, it all brought me to where I am today. Even the horrible painful parts.
What’s the best thing about your job?
It changes all the time. I am always learning and meeting new people.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
Meeting new people who might be ignorant and having to repeat conversations and jump through old hoops to get the newbies up to speed on my politics.
What are the best and worst aspects about being small?
Best – You are less likely to break your mobile phone when you drop it.
Best – You learn to become a crafty problem solver like Magyver. Finding clever ways to reach things and escape from rooms with door handles that are too high and too heavy. This is kind of a super power.
Best – When people discriminate against you, you learn a very important truth about this person and their own failings and potential for cruelty. This is good to know.
Worst – Experiencing people’s prejudice. Is this about me being small though? Or is it about them and their rigid response to meeting someone who is different? So it’s really their worst trait not something my body or smallness is responsible for…. Hmmmm it’s a paradox.
If you could pass on one piece of advice to your teenage self what would that be?
Keep exercising. Never stop! Keep dancing. Life is easier when you are lithe and nimble. Also… no one will appreciate your sexy hotness until your late 20s and 30s… The fools [being boys your age] missed their opportunity to adore your pert fitness peak and youthful gazelle-like being. So make the most of it for yourself… hot stuff!
Which living person do you most admire and why?
Oh, there are so many.
People are like raindrops, they forge the path for those who follow. I know my liberation and empowerment rests on the backs of many unknown disabled people, human rights activists and adaptive thinkers. People who make incremental impacts on the world around them, set positive examples through their choices and actions. So often they don’t get any thanks for their integrity and honourable actions. Their struggle is not recognised, but every day they making a difference.
I admire everyone who is kind, genuine, self-aware, and wants a better world for those who follow.
How do you like to pass the time, outside of work?
It’s terrible, but TV is so good right now! I am cooking, making fresh coffee, doing yoga in my living room, meeting friends and watching much too much Netflix. There is a fab series at the moment, but it’s hard to get… ‘Speechless’. Everyone reading this interview must find a way to watch it.
What’s your favourite book?
The Little Prince. I seem to read that book every 7 years and each time it smacks me across the face with something new. Oh! And Stones From The River by Ursula Hegi. I felt profoundly understood by that author but I didn’t like the sequel.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
That in spite of the prejudices and mistreatment that confronts me daily, I can keep imagining a fairer society and believe we all deserve equality. I imagine a way I can make choices and contribute to this change.
When your time comes, how would you like to be remembered?
Kiruna stood by her beliefs and honoured them with her choices and actions. She had integrity but always added the caveat, “…we all have a price, it’s just that nobody has offered me mine, yet”.
‘Here lies Kiruna Stamell who had a splendid piece of apparatus.’