Little Legs, Big Heart Is About To Be Your Favorite Instagram Account

Photo: Courtesy of Emily Whitaker.
Born with Achondroplasia, a common form of dwarfism, Kristen DeAndrade spent her childhood waiting for a "miracle," she explains in an exchange over email. It was only when she learned about extended limb-lengthening surgeries that she saw how her life could change for the better. She knew, of course, that this major shift wouldn't come easily. The procedures took nearly four years all together, and DeAndrade went through with them in spite of their stigma within the little-person community: "There was enormous controversy surrounding them," she explains. "The Little People of America deemed the procedures cosmetic and claimed that those who chose to lengthen did it to blend in with society."

DeAndrade acknowledges this stigma, but stands by her decision to have the surgeries. "Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that modern medicine would shape my life the way it has. Yes, I'm a little bit taller, proportionate, and straighter thanks to the lengthening procedures," she says. "But more importantly," she adds, alluding to the friends and family who supported and cared for her, "the entire journey caused my faith and love to grow stronger... It's been more than 17 years since my first procedure, and I have no regrets."

By no means has DeAndrade abandoned the little-person community, either. In fact, she has become a vocal advocate for people with dwarfism, coining the term "different-ability" in place of "disability" to describe her condition. But DeAndrade's yoga practice, specific to her body and needs, is perhaps the most powerful demonstration of her true abilities. "Yoga is always changing and providing opportunities for learning. I'm thirsty for knowledge about myself and this body I have lived in for the last 30 years."

Click ahead for more from DeAndrade about her personal journey — and how yoga has played a part in it.
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"My parents weren’t familiar with the words Achondroplasia, short stature, or dwarfism until I came along. My mom saved every article and piece of information she could get her hands on regarding my condition. We first came across the extended limb-lengthening procedures on a televised segment of Regis and Kathy Lee.

"With all of the pros and cons weighed, and the full support of my family and friends, I opted to undergo the procedures. Knowing very well that there was a lot of controversy surrounding limb lengthening, I held true in knowing that my motivation did not lie in becoming taller, blending in, or changing who I was. My eyes and my heart were on my future. I was still going to be Kristen, the sassy little free spirit, born with dwarfism. Nothing could ever change that."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"My first [yoga] class was a heated vinyasa flow, and I left feeling dehydrated, confused, and convinced that this ‘yoga’ was not for me. And yet, for some reason, I went back again and again and again. To be honest, I’m not sure that I could have told you why in the moment. It just felt right."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"And now, 10 years later, I find myself a part of the ever-growing yoga community — one that loves, heals, and inspires. Everything from the time I wake up until I go to sleep is my yoga. There is a lot of beauty that comes from knowing my strengths and dropping the urge to push myself over the edge. Physically, my asana has taught me to respect my boundaries and honor my body — whatever that looks like. Modifications and props are my best friends."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"Some days, my body craves a 60-minute heated vinyasa flow, and other times, I simply need to lay flat on my back with my legs up the wall. Allowing myself to find child’s pose when my body needs it — that is what makes me a strong yogi. Love is the fluidity and core of who I am, and in my practice I intend to love myself, honor my body, and recognize my breath without comparison."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"Needless to say, I fall far from the mainstream individuation of a present-day yogi you see on Instagram or a magazine cover. No one else in this world has walked in my shoes, nor do they have a yoga practice that looks remotely similar to mine. When you think about the enormous complexity of such a phenomenon, that everyone has their own practice, that is beautiful. My physical practice and my progress have erased the boundaries of separation that I once created for myself and that others continue to create for me based on my stature."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
When asked what makes her feel the most confident, DeAndrade responds, "Laughter. Explosive, nearly-peeeing-your-pants, I-can-barely-breathe laughter is my absolute favorite. Laughter is contagious, and so is confidence. When I laugh with people, there are no boundaries; each of us being unapologetically ourselves, our inhibitions having disappeared. That screams confidence. Instilling confidence and lots of laughter is a requirement on my mat. Even in the middle of a crowded class, if I fall or have a brain fart and forget my left from my right, I laugh. It's easier to hit the reset button and try again with a smile."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"When my self-confidence level is low, it's usually because of the negative self-talk that comes up in my head. Days when I see myself through the eyes of those who don't see my beauty or know my worth, the I'm not good enough, I don't deserve that, and it's not possible ideas try to take over. Then, I remember: Little legs. BIG heart. What began as a title for my blog has now become my mantra."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"When you experience your illness or condition as a disability, it becomes a prison. When you experience your illness or condition as an identity, it is a source of freedom. As soon as I identified myself as a little person and accepted myself for who I am, BOOM. Things got real. To say that I am disabled — I see it as completely false."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"The word 'disabled' is giving society permission to tell me that I can't do something. The word has taken on such a negative connotation, and I wanted to change that. Different-ability doesn't deny the individual of what they can do. Just because I can’t reach something on the top shelf in my kitchen, society puts me in this category of being limited or at a disadvantage? I don't think so. I choose to see my 'lack' of ability in a different light. Where there is a will, there is a way."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"One of the most terrible diseases that plagues this world is indifference. Nearly every person living with a form of dwarfism, I'm sure, has experienced a jarring moment when they fall victim to the harsh judgments from society, quickly reminded that they fall under the category of 'different.' For some reason, that warrants ridicule, laughter, staring, and pointing. Learning to live with that realization can be difficult. And that's okay. My feelings of anger, sadness, and fear are valid, and acknowledging them and feeling them makes me a warrior."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"If I am truly struggling, I ask for help. Authenticity is the key to healing. I am more than a diagnosis, a condition, or a label. Things aren't always effortless like they are for some people, but I will never stop fighting to get my voice heard — never, ever. The harder I fight to spread and instill the idea of replacing judgment with love and erasing these boundaries of separation, the softer my heart becomes."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"Most of the time, ignorance can be upturned with kindness or a little lesson on respect. If someone says, 'Hey, you're a midget,' my response is simple: 'That word is disrespectful. My name is Kristen. It's nice to meet you.' For those individuals who are relentless, its a matter of ignoring them."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"Sometimes, I have to fight back tears and remind myself that it has nothing to do with me. People are always going to have their thoughts, opinions, and expectations. Ultimately, my own happiness depends on me."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"Right now, I see my life as being so much more than the typical trajectory: wake up, go to work, pay the bills, come home, and go to sleep. I know that I am capable of so much more, and I have the choice to make it happen. When I truly began to deeply connect to my yoga practice, I formed some of the most amazing sisterhoods and friendships that I have ever had present in my life. My love for yoga’s physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects became apparent to those around me, and I knew that I wanted to make that bond eternal. That was so, so scary for me to come to terms with at first — what a huge change to welcome into a life that I had envisioned so differently."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"My advice to others is to be gentle on yourself — something I continue to work on. One of the biggest things I recently learned is that in judging myself, I immediately give others permission to do the same. Raising awareness about dwarfism and differences in general empowers others to think before they judge."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"When I speak positively about myself, it doesn’t mean that I never struggle with body image issues, but more so that I am living with the body I was given and continuously learning to love what I have today. Here's the thing: No one person's hardship is greater than another's. We all have our own inimitable story; we have all known fear, sadness, loss, anger, and joy."
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Photo: Courtesy of @littlelegsbigheart.
"Don't ever discredit yourself for what you have been through, what you're currently facing, and what you have overcome. I have the utmost gratitude for the people in my life I get to call 'family' or 'friend.' They constantly remind me that in darkness there is light, and true love is effortless. All of our different stories — they are cause for celebration and reminders of the true beauty that surrounds us every day."
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