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Dwarfism is a condition in which a person, animal or plant is much below the ordinary size of the species. When applied to people, it implies not just extreme shortness, but a degree of disproportion. Dwarfism is now rarely used as a medical term and is sometimes considered impolite or pejorative. While the term little person is the most common expression in America, "dwarf" is still considered polite. According to the Little People of America the human definition of dwarfism is "a medical or genetic condition that usually results in an adult height of 4'10" (147 cm) or shorter, among both men and women, although in some cases a person with a dwarfing condition may be slightly taller than that." There are approximately 200 different types of dwarfism 
Of the hundreds of causes of dwarfism in humans, most are genetic, and most involve single gene variations that affect the structure or metabolism of bone, cartilage, or connective tissue. This class of disorder is referred to by physicians as skeletal dysplasia. Chondrodystrophy, chondrodysplasia, osteochondrodystrophy are also used (fairly interchangeably) in the medical literature to refer to most of these conditions. In many of these conditions, the bones are the primary affected body part, and the person is otherwise healthy. In many others, the genetic difference affects other body systems, causing unusual features or other major problems. Achondroplasia is one of the most common and perhaps the most easily recognized skeletal dysplasia. It affects approximately 1 in 40,000 children, both males and females, as it is due to a mutation of an autosomal gene.
Dwarfism is not always a disadvantage. For instance, insular dwarfism is the dwarfism of species due to isolated environment and it helps to reduce the need for food.
If Homo floresiensis, discovered in 2003, turns out to be a true species, then it will be the first known example of insular dwarfism of human beings.
Problems faced by people with these conditions
- Social and employment opportunities are greatly reduced, regardless of anti-discrimination laws. Self-esteem and family relationships are often affected, although not necessarily if the person(s) involved are emotionally healthy.
- Extreme shortness (in the low 2–3 foot [60–90 cm] range) can interfere with ordinary activities of daily living, like driving or even using countertops built for taller people.
- Many can have problems produced by the abnormal bone structures. Early degenerative joint disease, exaggerated lordosis or scoliosis, and constriction of spinal cord or nerve roots can cause pain and disability. Reduced thoracic size can restrict lung growth and reduce pulmonary function.
- Many of the conditions are associated with disordered function of other organs, such as brain or liver (although this is rare). These problems can be more disabling than the abnormal bone growth.
Shortness is usually the concern that brings the child to medical attention. Skeletal dysplasia ("dwarfism") is usually suspected because of obvious physical features (e.g., unusual configuration of face or shape of skull), because of an obviously affected parent, or because body measurements (arm span, upper to lower segment ratio) indicate disproportion. Bone x-rays are often the key to diagnosis of a specific skeletal dysplasia. Most children with suspected skeletal dysplasias will be referred to a genetics clinic for diagnostic confirmation and genetic counselling. See below external links for a list of American referral centers with special expertise in skeletal dysplasias. In the last decade, genetic tests for some of the specific disorders have become available.
During the initial medical evaluation for shortness, the absence of disproportion and the other clues above usually indicates other causes than bone dysplasias. Extreme proportional shortness sometimes indicates growth hormone deficiency.
Little person (as opposed to big person), and short-statured are currently preferred terms to refer to a person with extreme, disproportionate shortness. Dwarf is sometimes perceived as having negative connotations, although the term is often used by those affected. The plural is dwarfs as in "Peter Dinklage and Wee Man are famous, handsome dwarfs." The plural term dwarves is used only for the imaginary creature. In the 19th century both dwarf and midget were ordinary medical terms referring to persons of disproportionate and proportionate shortness, respectively. Like many other older medical terms, they became primarily pejorative as they entered popular use. Midget is now considered offensive in all contexts to most little people, because of its connotation with little people being gawked at in circus/sideshows.
In popular culture and the arts
Dwarfism is such an obvious difference that it attracts curiosity, humor, and imagination. People have paid just to look at dwarfs or to keep them around for amusement (for example, dwarf tossing). In many times and places this may be the most attractive employment option available, as was the case for some jesters of medieval Europe.
When depicted in art, literature, or movies, dwarfs are rarely depicted as "regular people who are very short" but often as a species apart. Novelists, artists, and moviemakers attach special moral or aesthetic significance to the "apartness" or the misshapenness.
Artistic representations of dwarfism can be found on Greek vases and other ancient artifacts, including ancient Egyptian art. Many European paintings (especially Spanish) of the 16th–19th centuries depict dwarfs by themselves or with others.
Several novels have treated dwarfism as a major theme, not necessarily realistically:
- The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) by Günter Grass
- Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
- The Dwarf by Pär Lagerkvist
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
- A Son of the Circus by John Irving
- Hop-Frog, or The Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs by Edgar Allan Poe
Leslie Fiedler's Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self (1979) is considered an intelligent and sensitive exploration of the cultural significance and artistic treatments of differentness. Other readers may feel that he valued physically unusual people for their differentness, not for their personhood, when he laments medical treatment for reducing the number of picturesquely different people around.
- Freaks (1932)
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
- The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
- The Wizard of Oz (1939)
- Even Dwarfs Started Small (Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen) (1970)
- The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) (1979)
- The Elephant Man (1980)
- Time Bandits (1981)
- Willow (1988)
- Simon Birch (1998)
- The Station Agent (2003)
- Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
- Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
- Elf (2003)
- Bad Santa (2005)
- Charmed (Seasons 5 to 8, where quite a number of them appeared in recurring roles as either the 7 dwarves, elves, and/or leprechauns)
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2006)
- Little People, Big World Starring The Roloffs (TLC) (2006)
The 1960s television series The Wild Wild West featured a dwarf, Michael Dunn, as the recurring character Dr. Miguelito Loveless, the brilliant but insane archenemy of Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon.
In the 1990s, the immensely popular series Seinfeld featured a dwarf character, Mickey Abbott, in seven episodes; Mickey was played by actor Danny Woodburn. Notably, he was a normal character and few references were made to his height, indicating an improved acceptance of little people in entertainment.
Famous people with dwarfism
- Jason Acuña, also known as "Wee-Man", US skateboarder
- Michael J. Anderson, US actor
- Kenny Baker, UK actor who portrayed R2-D2
- Billy Barty, US actor
- Sebastiano Biavati, 17th century curator of museum of curiosities
- Joseph Boruwlaski, Polish "count"
- Bridget The Midget, porn star
- Bushwick Bill, US musician, founding member of The Geto Boys
- Joe C., Kid Rock's sidekick
- Debbie Lee Carrington, US actress
- Tony Cox, US actor
- Caroline Crachami, Sicilian dwarf
- Francois de Cuvillies, Flemish architect
- Warwick Davis, UK actor
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French artist
- Peter Dinklage, US actor
- The Doll Family, German-born siblings
- Michael Dunn, US actor
- Meredith Eaton, US actor
- Josh Ryan Evans, US actor
- Nicholas Feny, French-born court dwarf
- Charles Flato, American writer and Soviet spy, he was also hunchbacked
- Phil Fondacaro, US actor
- Eddie Gaedel, made one plate appearance for the St. Louis Browns in 1951
- Michael Gilden, US actor
- Jeffrey Hudson, English court dwarf and jester to Charles I
- Martin Klebba, US actor
- Wybrand Lolkes, Dutch dwarf
- Patty Maloney, US actress
- Gul Mohammed, Guinness record holder for world's shortest man.
- George Washington Morrison Nutt, "Commodore Nutt"
- Ovitz family, Jewish family that survived the Holocaust
- Robin Patt-Corner, gay rights activist
- Alexander Pope, poet
- Meinhardt Raabe, oldest surviving Munchkin from "The Wizard of Oz"
- David Rappaport, UK & US actor
- Judy-Lynn del Rey, US science fiction editor
- Matthew Roloff, US actor, author and businessman
- Timothy Roman, the son of US actress Susan Cabot
- Deep Roy, Kenya-born actor and stuntman who played the Oompa-Loompas in the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Zelda Rubinstein, US actress
- Lester "Beetlejuice" Green entertainer known for his appearances on the Howard Stern show.
- Felix Silla, US actor
- Charles Proteus Steinmetz, scientist and engineer
- Charles Sherwood Stratton, "General Tom Thumb"
- Verne Troyer, US actor
- Hervé Villechaize, French-born actor
- Lavinia Warren, US entertainer
- Chick Webb, big band drummer
- www.dwarfism.org - lists specialists and referral centers in the USA with special expertise in skeletal dysplasias
- Little People of America
- www.shortsupport.org for a variety of information related to short stature, and a somewhat cautionary view of limb lengthening surgery.
-  Photo Gallery of Little People