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'I’m a little person who joined Tinder as a social experiment. It’s been ridiculous.'

The objectification is rampant. The fetishists are persistent. But sometimes, you meet someone nice.

'I’m a little person who joined Tinder as a social experiment. It’s been ridiculous.'

Warning: Some language in this piece is NSFW. Because this is an article about being a woman on Tinder. And, well, ugh. You know.

If you're a woman and a little person on Tinder, there are plenty of people happy to make your acquaintance — on very ... particular terms.

Laura Cooper, a health care worker and aspiring stand-up comedian, has been on Tinder since last spring. She's 4 feet, 2 inches tall, with a desert-dry sense of humor and a hilariously depressing Instagram feed — aptly named "Laura vs. Tinder" — on which she documents her "Groundhog Day"-like adventures on the dating app.


"They don't say the terrible things right off the bat," she says. "It usually takes them a few back-and-forths, and then they’ll tell me they have a fantasy about me."

Laura Cooper. Photo used with permission.

Cooper signed up for Tinder partly out of boredom, partly as a sort of "social experiment."

"Growing up, I was in kind of the nerdy group, and none of us dated, and in college, I didn’t really," she explains.

Though she didn't foreclose the possibility of meeting someone, she held her expectations in check, having heard dozens of horror stories from friends.

Of course, she doesn't speak for all little people, and hers is just one experience. But for better or worse, she's definitely learned a thing or two. All of it interesting — not all of it super great. And yet, some of it mildly (OK, extremely mildly) redeeming.

1. You are a "bucket list" item.

The way Cooper has decided to use Tinder is equal parts admirable and a nightmare worse than the one where robots are eating your dog: She always swipes right to match. She estimates she's matched with over 3,000 people in her hometown of Cincinnati and that roughly 170% of them send messages that are the dating app equivalent of a low, rumbling fart.

"Everyone has fantasized about banging a little person," Cooper says. If it's an exaggeration, it's not much of one, as evidenced by a quick glance at the kinds of messages she receives.

"I was going to make a joke about how my penis would be a significant percentage of your height," wrote one potential suitor, stopping himself before he said the very thing he obviously implied — and also, let's face it, kind of did say — apparently in a heroic act of herculean restraint.

Not every guy who contacts her is such a master of subtlety. "I bet my dicks [sic] half the size of your body," said someone else, very originally.

"Is my cock longer than your arms?" penned another Shakespeare.

Some men are even more ... direct, like the dude who made a bizarre reference to a specific snow removal tool when he told her he wanted, "to get a scoop shovel and tear into [her] sweet midget ass." Others try really cool awesome unique puns, like the wordsmith who said he was "trying to come over for a LITTLE ... or a SHORT period of time." Or the gentleman who posed the brilliant rhetorical question that speaks to the heart-core of every little woman's lived experience: "Riding dick is better, no?"

Cooper finds the barrage of objectifying messages partly funny, partly pathetic. For a group of strange men ostensibly trying to win her interest, she explains, these dudes could not be doing it more wrongly.

"I would caution people from treating other people like inanimate objects. I’m kind of me first and my disability second," Cooper says, "so it’s weird when my disability is all that people see. I think people need to remember that it’s a human on the other side."

2. There is virtually nothing you can say to turn off really persistent fetishists.

For guys who have made it their mission to find a little person, any little person, to have sex with, the specifics of what that might entail don't seem to matter, no matter how bizarre — much to Cooper's endless amusement.

A post shared by Laura (@lauravstinder) on

"One guy asked me what I liked to do for fun, and I said, 'Make nail clipping mosaics and earwax candles.' And he didn’t even blink at that. He was just like, 'Oh, that’s cool,'" she recalls.

Like mosquitoes, indictments of Trump administration officials, and seasons of "The Big Bang Theory," these horny dudes just keep coming.

3. Except for maybe one thing.

While people with disproportionate dwarfism are a large, diverse group who experience the full human range of health outcomes, certain medical problems have a nasty habit of cropping up at the most inopportune times. Many of Cooper's friends have endured surgeries their entire lives. Cooper herself has been lucky — until one day she wasn't.

"My colon exploded," she says.

Cooper needed an emergency procedure that landed her in the hospital for a month. For the most part, she passed the time resting, recuperating, and enjoying the free incapacitating drugs. Until she got bored.

"I logged onto Tinder once when I was in the hospital," she says. "And he asked me how I was doing. I think my response was, 'I'm hooked up to eight bags of IV fluids and I have a huge gash on my stomach, how are you?'"

This, apparently, was a bridge too far for her anonymous admirer's delicate male sensibilities.

"He unmatched."

4. Men aren't immune from the weirdness.

Cooper started her feed with encouragement (and occasional contributions) from her friends who are little people, many of whom have similar dating app stories. And it's not just the women who get bizarre messages.

"Some of the guys get creepy stuff too," she says. While milder than the requests for driveway-clearing-after-a-Nor'easter-style sex and literal dick-measuring messages, "I've always wanted to hook up with a short man" turns out to be the far more polite but no less objectifying female version of same.

And as much as it's purported to be the Obvious Ultimate Fantasy of Every Man™ to be approached by horny, anonymous women on a daily basis, shockingly, it can be a bit of a mood killer when said women view you as "a dwarf-shaped sex toy."

"The guys are like, 'Mmm, no.'" Cooper says.

5. People expect you to be grateful for the attention, and you can get suspended — or even banned — for disabusing them of that notion.

When confronted with a stream of holy-crap-did-he-just-say-that-gah-of-course-he-just-did, Cooper is faced with two choices: She can either slink away meekly into the digital ether and ignore him, or she can use her wicked sense of humor to engage in hand-to-hand combat.

Unsurprisingly, she often chooses the latter.

A post shared by Laura (@lauravstinder) on

Her retorts have a tendency to surprise and confound her hopeful paramours, many of whom, she suspects, run crying to Tinder's invisible referees like a toddler who had his binky swiped. Rejection, it seems, wasn't part of their plan.

"I've been under review like six times," she says. "I log in, and I see that [red] screen, and I’m like, 'Aw, come on!'"

The suspensions can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Though she has no way of knowing for sure, Cooper suspects her jousting would be tolerated in a woman of average height, one who they haven't pegged as "desperate."

"It's usually when I turn them down that they unmatch and report me," she says sarcastically. "Because, you know, I’m not allowed to say 'no.'"

Meanwhile, the dudes who report her are allowed to continue bumping around Tinder despite the crude, objectifying, Axe-body-spray-tinged nonsense they vomit.

6. Cooper's experience is both the same shit every woman has to put up with on dating apps — and also completely 100% not.

Photo by Laura Cooper/Tinder.

Reading just a few of Cooper's messages pretty well illustrates the particular joy of navigating Tinder as an out and proud little person. Still, a quick glance at the Instagram account Tinder Nightmares suggests that women of all heights, sizes, religions, colors, and United MileagePlus Premiere statuses are subjected to horrifically gross man-bile on a minute-ly basis. Do people in Cooper's position really have it worse?

For perspective, I managed to track down former Tinder user and non-little person, Michelle D (name abridged to protect her privacy,) a health care worker based abroad. Michelle tells me she "almost never [got] very forward/over-sexualized messages" when she was on the app and regards her Tinder experience as generally "excellent." I showed her Cooper's Instagram feed. Her reaction was about as measured as you might expect:

"Fuuuck."

The messages were a shock. And Michelle says she rarely, if ever, got anything like them. Still, she explains that some of the behavior Cooper experiences in the app simply migrated to her real-life meetings with Tinder matches — often in uncomfortable, occasionally scary, ways.

"I feel that men can sometimes be less respectful because it's a Tinder hookup," Michelle explains. "Like they're more likely to push more outlandish or even risky sex stuff."

In that sense, Cooper's experience is less an aberration than one extreme end of a spectrum. An objectifying, dark-carnival, creepy spectrum.

7. Tinder's not all nightmarish dystopian hellscape — you can actually meet some nice people.

Miraculously, Cooper managed to weed through the pile of sentient phalluses with faces attached to snag a few dates with some actual human men, who, as it turns out, were kinda cool.

Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images.

"They just had interests and were easy to talk to. And they enjoyed my Tinder posts [on Instagram] too. They both followed me on it." She's also made a few Facebook and Instagram friends through the app. They continue to trade jokes and conversation, none of it about relative body part size or sex acts involving snow shovels.

Cooper especially likes to use Tinder when she travels. For the most part, she says, no matter where she goes, it's the same shit, different city. With one exception.

"Seattle was not bad," she says. "'Cause I think there are smarter people there. People that actually wanted to hang out or [have] real conversations with proper grammar and good spelling. It was refreshing. Like they were very clearly interested in me as a human."

8. But you always wonder what people's true intentions are.

A few positive experiences haven't been quite enough to restore her faith in Tinderkind. These days, Cooper can't help but approach new matches on the app with a certain wariness.

"I think I am going to always wonder if someone secretly has a fetish and just doesn’t say it," she admits. "So even if someone is decent, I tend to think, 'You’re not really decent.'"

The hospital stay was nearly a turning point for Cooper. Hopped up on pain medication and IV fluids, she was "too confused" to swipe in any direction. Yet, as she lay in bed by herself, counting down the hours, she found herself missing Tinder. The game. The trolling. The human connection — even the kind that involves pontificating on the similarities between "ur asshole and a 9-volt battery."

As it turned out, the feeling was mutual.

When she finally got home, she turned on her phone, only to find hundreds of messages waiting for her.

"It was just funny. It was like, 'Oh. They missed me.'"

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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