Kiralee Gough speaks about life with dwarfism ahead of Short Statured People of Australia convention in Lake Macquarie

Kiralee Gough should have the world at her feet. 

The vivacious 21-year-old from Swansea has just finished a course at TAFE and is looking to carve out a career in makeup artistry. 

But for Kiralee, something as routine as a trip to the supermarket fills her with dread. 

For a person living with dwarfism, the act of stepping out in public means humiliation - from people taunting her within earshot to laughing and taking photographs. 

"I get it every day. It's constantly thrown in your face that you're different, no matter how much you think that you're not. It just blows you away how nasty grown adults can be," she said. 

"It's hard when you start your day well, then you go out to meet a friend and someone's laughing or taking a photo. It instantly changes your whole mood. 

"If I was to change anything, it wouldn't be my condition. It would be society and their outlook," she said. 

Kiralee takes anxiety medication to help manage her distress, but even then she finds herself cancelling outings unless she can be chaperoned her mum or best friend, Rose. 

"Generally even if I just walk through a crowd, it will go silent. It’s really noticeable." 

There are over 200 different types of dwarfism. The vast majority of people with the condition - including Kiralee - are born to parents of average height. 

The Short Statured People of Australia Association will be holding its national convention at Myuna Bay in Lake Macquarie next September, as it also celebrates its 50th anniversary. 

The association's mission is to improve awareness about the condition, and Kiralee believes it is a lack of understanding that drives people to use offensive terms like 'midget'. 

"I don't cry about the word midget, but I know that it isn't acceptable because it's generally used in a derogatory way," she said. 

"I suppose it's like using the N word for a black person. The reason little people get so offended is because basically it was used when they used to be in the circus and generally they were considered freaks." 

Kiralee says the other greatest misconception was that people with dwarfism "weren't all there" mentally. 

"People will try and overcompensate and be too nice. I don't want people to feel sorry for me.” 

Around one in every 20,000 babies are born with the most common type of dwarfism –  Achondroplasia – which is characterized by an average-sized trunk but short arms and legs. 

Kiralee said she was lucky to have been born with SED, where the body is small but in proportion. 

But she was still forced to undergo traumatic medical procedures as a child to straighten her legs.

That involved the insertion of metal rings that had to be left in an open wound for six months until they could be removed. 

"I had to clean the wound twice a day with sterile saline and cotton buds so it wouldn't scab over,” she said. 

"First of all mum did it and she had to get the neighbour to hold me down, because obviously it was excruciating. 

"The second leg I think I was maybe nine or ten and I told them I would do it myself.

“It was easier because I knew my own tolerance." 

At school, Kiralee refused to use her modified desk and chair because she did not want to draw attention to her condition.

She said some of the "popular boys" bullied her but many of them have contacted her to apologise in the years since graduating.  

Leaving school has presented new challenges. Prospective employers won't hire her - even for a desk job - once they meet her in person. 

“You can see their reaction when I walk into the interview, because I didn’t put it on my resume. I would think sorry, I didn’t realise I had to be six foot two to sit at a computer.” 

She ended up landing a full-time job in administration but her chronic pain has been a constant struggle.

“Say my friends want to go to a music festival, it would be so good for an hour or so and then I think of the pain and it’s not worth it. 

“I’m smart about it and I pick and choose what I go to. I know I’m always going to have pain and it’s only got to get worse as I get older.”  

Kiralee accepts she will need to have operations on her hips and knees.  

But she is seeking to avoid an operation on her spine – that could alleviate some of her pain by straightening it with a metal rod – because it could cost her some of the movement in her legs. 

“I don’t want to have to re-learn how to walk and spend all that time in hospital. 

“I’d rather deal with the pain. At the moment I got out shopping, I go out clubbing and I can drive.” 

Kiralee has had boyfriends of average height, but she doesn't go out on dates in public. 

"Imagine going out to dinner with someone and everyone is staring and laughing and taking photos. I wouldn't want to put someone through that. 

“A lot of little people only date other little people, but I don’t think you should limit yourself just because you have that in common with someone.” 

These days, Kiralee “holds her head high" and ignores the abuse. She credits the support of her family for her resilience. 

“My brother Jacob is very protective, he was never ashamed to go out in public with me and if someone said something, he would threaten to beat them up. 

“I couldn’t have asked for Mum and Dad to raise me any better. They brought me up to accept who I am. When I was younger I did find myself wishing things were different, but now I realise it’s other people that need to change.” 

But Kiralee admits it hurts her parents when they witness her cruel treatment by strangers. 

"My mum is feisty, she'll be like 'I'm going to fight them' and I'll say, 'Mum, you can't do that!’" Kiralee laughs.

"My dad is a big softy, even though he pretends that he's not. He'll be gruff and just say 'people are idiots'. But I know then he'd probably go and cry in the shed." 

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