Lauren Ruotolo is a gorgeous redhead with a great job–Director of Entertainment Promotions for the Hearst Corporation–a glam wardrobe, a cool boyfriend, and a hot new book about getting a leg up in life, no matter what size your legs happen to be.
The 4’ 2” Long Island native was born with a rare disorder called McCune Albright Syndrome that has caused not just her short stature and the use of crutches but a host of other physical challenges, all of which she details in her new memoir, Unstoppable in Stilettos: A Girl’s Guide to Living Tall in a Small World.
In addition to being a funny (anecdotes about LL Cool J!) and moving autobiography about coping with and triumphing over her condition, Ruotolo’s book is an old-fashioned, Dale Carnegie-esque motivational work organized around themes like “Rejection can be your greatest ally,” “Being different is a gift,” and “Avoid the word ‘no’.” She encourages readers of all abilities to get over self-doubt, self-consciousness–just get over themselves, period–and create happiness on their own terms.
So, the advice—both life- and dating-related—in your book is geared towards a mainstream audience.
I’m wondering if you have any specific dating advice for people who have physical challenges or physical differences.
I think that the first piece of advice–and it’s not just for people with physical disabilities or mental disabilities–is that you have to love yourself in order for someone to love you. That was something that I had to learn–that I had to love myself the way that I wanted to be loved by somebody, and I had to learn to be comfortable with knowing that I am different from other people, that my body looks different, that when it comes to sex or being intimate with somebody that it’s going to be a little bit different, so I think that I had to understand all those aspects and love every aspect of who I was before I could allow somebody in. I was always so insecure about it.
And I think that you become insecure when you’re dating, anyway–everybody is insecure! But it really becomes difficult when there’s something different about you. I hope that I teach in the book–for people to really love themselves–and, like I said, love themselves like you want to be loved.
Your experiences with online dating were not very positive.
No! (Laughs.) Not at all! Oh my god, it was such a nightmare! I hope to never have to do that again in my life. When it comes to online dating, yes, you want to put yourself out there, and put as much information about yourself up front. But as I wrote in the book, how I have always seen myself is not really as a “handicapped” person. I knew that if I presented myself as a girl walking with crutches, that’s all anyone would see, and I would be labeled as a “Girl With Crutches”…
You mention in the book that you entered therapy, and the key lesson there for you was acceptance. How would you define “acceptance”?
Acceptance, for me, was when I stopped hiding. I said, “I love myself, I have a family who loves me, I have friends that love me, and the next man I meet is gonna love me for me and I’m not gonna hide behind a barstool, and I’m not going to hide behind a photo online. I’m just gonna put myself out there and see what happens.”
And I did–I met [current live-in boyfriend] Nelson on a staircase. So it was that acceptance and getting rid of that insecurity in my head that got me there. I was always so strong in so many other ways—but when it came to relationships–well, like I said, I think everyone has these fears. Because society is like, all right, you get to a certain age, girls, and you gotta find that husband, and you gotta have babies, and that’s your life! When you’re a child, you dream about your wedding–you know, there’s this idea promoted by magazines, especially here at Hearst, and at Seventeen magazine, that they’re like two of the greatest moments in a girls’ life: her prom, that she’ll always remember, and her wedding.
“Who are you gonna take to your prom? Who are you gonna marry?” (Laughs) So it’s just always a constant conversation that makes us all nervous, but we all have to accept who we are, and that was really what I learned in therapy.
The wedding thing–is that something that has been in your mind pressuring you, or have you let that go?
I think as Nelson and I get closer, and as I get older, it’s something that I’ve thought about a lot more often than I ever did in my life–
–but, because you have the relationship–
Right, because I have the relationship–
–not because you’re thinking about the dress.
Exactly! (Laughs) Well, now that I’m in the relationship, I do think about the dress!
Ha! Tell me about Glamour Gals Foundation.
Oh, Glamour Gals is such a great organization. It’s an intergenerational organization that brings teen girls and elderly women together. The teen girls provide complimentary makeovers and facials and, more than anything, companionship to the elderly women.
My great-grandmother was in a home, so I know–when I would come visit, she would want to get dressed and she would want to put lipstick on and make herself presentable. With women, from the time we’re three years old, we want to wear lipstick ‘til the time we’re 93. We want to wear makeup! It just makes you feel good. And I think that it’s such a great opportunity for community service for girls. You know, when else are you really going to teach them that there are these wonderful older women out there, unless they have somebody in their family. And I think it really makes teens feel good about what they’re doing, and obviously the ladies feel great about themselves. So I’m really happy to be part of the organization.
The way that I found out about it was when my article in Marie Claire came out in March of 2009. The president and founder Rachel Doyle read it and contacted somebody here at Hearst called Susan Schultz who was on the advisory board and was like “Do you know this girl? I would like to nominate her for our Glammy, for most glamorous gal of the year.” And they did, and I accepted, and it was such a wonderful honor!
And now I’m on the advisory board, and I’m heading up their first gala in February.
Do you have any plans for a follow-up book?
I really want to do a children’s book. Children—at least from my understanding and the research that I’ve done on the street where children stare at me—don’t see racial differences these days because it’s everywhere. So, they have black friends, they have white friends, they have Puerto Rican friends, they have Chinese friends, and they don’t see the difference anymore, which is wonderful. But they still see the obvious physical differences of people with different abilities. And I think parents get nervous because kids are just outspoken. Not because they’re mean, because they just want to know!
They see somebody who’s different, and say, “Mommy, why is that lady so short?” or “What are those shiny things that she walks with?” And parents get embarrassed. And I see a lot of times where the parents are like “Shh!” or they just pull them away, and they don’t wanna notice it.
And that’s not the way. I really want to help children understand those differences.
(To read more about people living with short stature, click here.)