A spina bifida sufferer has told how boys asked to date her in secret because they were ashamed to be seen with a “midget”.
Lila Hart, 27, is just 4ft 6ins tall due to a curved spine birth defect which doctors said would leave her unable to walk.
The stand-up comedian says her love interests in school said they liked her but couldn’t date her in public because they feared being made fun of.
She also claims she was banned from joining a sorority because of her disability and was told by one sister: “We didn’t want to be known as the house of the cripple girl.”
Despite the discrimination, Lila has learnt to love her body and happily wears bikinis which show off the surgery scars on her back.
She is now dating a fellow comedian and wants other spina bifida sufferers to know the condition need not hold them back.
Lila, of Los Angeles, California, said: “My life changed when I became more confident about my height and my size.
“I’m so confident in how I look now that I can wear a bikini and not care about my back scars.
“I want sufferers to know that spina bifida does not have to determine your life.”
Lila was born with a severe form of the condition which occurs when a baby’s spine and spinal cord do not form properly in the womb.
Doctors told her parents, Esperanza, 57, and William, 54, that their daughter would never be able to walk and that she could also have learning difficulties.
She had surgery immediately after birth and had undergone seven operations by the time she was 14.
She said: “When I was in kindergarten, I was in a wheelchair and my older sister Laura, now 30, had to push me to school.
“I spent a couple of months in a full body cast when I was three years old.
“With caring parents, amazing miracles can happen and I was able to walk.”
But the condition stunted her growth, leaving her 4ft 6ins tall and walking with a limp.
She said: “My back is curved, one leg is smaller and I can’t move my toes.
“I’m only 4ft 6in and I’m just 75 pounds. I’ve been this height since junior high. When you are a foot shorter than all your classmates, it changes things.
“My left leg is significantly weaker than my right. In high school, I never wore skirts or dresses because I was so embarrassed about my tiny legs.”
Although Lila successfully ran for student body president with the slogan “I may be small but I can make a difference”, she still struggled in high school.
Boys told her that they would have to date in secret because she was a “midget”.
She said: “Lots of boys said to me: ‘I really like you Lila but I can’t date you openly because all my friends will make fun of me for dating a midget.’”
When she began studying at Washington State University, in Pullman, Washington, cruel sorority sisters refused to let her join their houses.
She said: “I wanted to be in a sorority so badly. I tried when I was a freshman, a sophomore and a senior but none of the houses wanted me.
“In my final year, a girl came up to me at a party when she was very drunk.
“She told me: ‘I’m so sorry that none of us took you in – we didn’t want to be known as the house of the cripple girl.’”
In college, Lila turned to alcohol to cope with her condition. She moved to Los Angeles to become an actress but failed auditions led her to drink more.
She hit rock bottom when, at 24, she was arrested on a flight for being drunk and disorderly.
She said: “I got arrested on a flight travelling to Seattle for my parents 25th wedding anniversary. I had been on a bender and I spent a night in jail.
“I was so beaten in life. I had a moment of realisation: I have an amazing family and I can’t keep living like this.”
Lila is now a year and a half sober, has discovered a passion for stand up comedy and has finally come to terms with her disability and her height.
She said: “I was always so scared of being called a midget or a cripple but now I make jokes about people calling me those words in my stand-up.
“I want to take the stigma out of those words and let people know it’s OK to speak about disability and learn more about what it’s like for the sufferers.
“I drank alcohol to give me courage but comedy is my new drug. It gives me the courage to be confident.
“I even make jokes about my height. I’m exactly the same height as an LA parking meter.”
She said her newfound confidence has led her to lasting love with Eric Abbenante, 28. The couple have been together for a year.
She said: “He’s so amazing. I wouldn’t in such a great relationship if I wasn’t sober and I hadn’t learnt to love myself.
“When I’m with him, I forget that I’m small.”