A three-foot-tall woman with a rare form of dwarfism who was bullied as a child is now getting her own back by combatting stereotypes working as a fashion model — but says men still "fetishize" her size.
Carly Ruhnke, 25, a restaurant hostess from New Jersey, has a rare form of dwarfism known as Morquio syndrome and was regularly taunted growing up — with bullies calling her an “ugly midget”.
When younger, she struggled in a world "not built for people with dwarfism or any other disability".
“[The bullies] made me feel like I’m not their equal," she told Radar.
"So many people are bullied, disabled or not. But I didn’t let it bother me then or now. Some people just have nothing better to do than to pick on someone else.
“People realize now that there’s nothing holding me back, I’m doing things that they could only dream of.”
What’s more, Carly is most definitely living her dream — having landed jobs walking catwalks as a fashion model.
She said: “I signed up for the Little People of America catwalk, as I love getting glammed up and ready to strut my stuff."
“Last year, I started the Little Carly Foundation with my brother, Eddie and we help to raise money for members of the Little People of America.
“Each year, there’s a national conference held which helps to share awareness and it’s a great way to get involved in social gatherings – it’s like our own little world for a week.”
So far, Carly has raised $3,000 (£2,205) through sponsored walks to help people attend the conference.
Carly also works part-time as a hostess at a restaurant — a job that she was determined to get, having applied for more than 50 positions with little success.
However, while she has enjoyed incredible successes in her professional life, Carly still struggles with one thing: dating.
Men will often comment on her size, while others seek her out specifically because of it — and their personal obsessions with dwarfism.
She said: “I’ve had somewhat of a dating life but nothing has gotten serious.
“It’s difficult because of my dwarfism, as I would usually go for a person of average height but they tend to have rather mind-blowing fetishes. People have said to me, ‘I’ve been looking for someone as short as you my whole life’ or disturbing questions about my body.
“I think because of these comments, ‘I’m holding out for Mr. Right and for someone who won't talk down to me.’ I might be three-feet-tall, but I’m still a grown woman with feelings.”
Most people with Carly’s condition reach at most four feet tall but as she had surgery from a young age, she stands at just three feet.
The budding model was first operated on at two years old to help her manage any limitations, including having 11 discs infused in her neck and back as part of a spinal infusion.
In total, this surgery took 16 and a half hours to complete and since then, Carly has had more than 30 surgeries to date.
One consisted of a surgical 'potato peeler' being used to remove bone from her head to be transplanted into her neck. Another included a “shelf” built into her hip to keep the socket in place.
She told Radar: “As my hip kept disjointing and moving out of the socket, my surgeon told me that they would just put it back into place. “I was only eight at the time and they made things extremely simple so I could understand.
“I also had brackets placed on my hips, staples in my knees and ankles, as well as a trachea reconstruction. At 20, I was only the fourth person with my disorder to have this surgery where they took a few inches of my trachea out. As my organs grow at an average pace for my age, my trachea had grown too long and I would constantly have to put my head back in order to breathe."
“I also have weekly infusions with enzymes to replace the ones lacking in my body that help with overall waste disposal. Otherwise, the waste in my body would keep building up and I would suffer severe complications from this.”
Remarkably, a nurse travels two hours to her house every week to give her an infusion — and “has been my nurse for six years so we have developed a very strong bond.”
Carly is currently single and hopes to get married in the future and perhaps adopt a child with dwarfism — but for now, she’s taking life slow.
She added: “Although I’ve never thought about it, I wouldn’t like to be pregnant and my doctors have advised against this. “I’m happy being an aunt and being a dog mum to my boy, Ruffus, who’s nearly 12.”