Photo Credit: courtesy of HCI Books
As Director of Entertainment Promotions for Hearst Magazines, Lauren Ruotolo is a media savvy jetsetter, walking the red carpet with stars like Pink, Heidi Klum and Brooke Shields. She rocks a fabulous wardrobe and is the proud mama of an enviable shoe collection featuring Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Via Spiga. She frequently travels to exotic locales like Greece and Turkey with her fabulous friends.
She also happens to stand just 4’2”.
Ruotolo lives with a rare genetic disease called McCune-Albright Syndrome, characterized by brittle bones (she once broke her leg simply by rolling over in her sleep), a sped-up hormonal system (she got her first period at nine months old and entered menopause at 11) and short stature. Nobody would blame her if she was angry or resentful, or if she choose a profession that allowed her to work from the physical and emotional safe haven of home. Yet the Long Island spitfire has refused to let her physical struggles limit her. In her new book, Unstoppable in Stilettos: A Girl's Guide to Living Tall in a Small World (HCI Books), she talks about a lifetime of endless challenges and her conscious decision, at a very young age, to defy the doctors who told her she would be wheelchair-bound. I spoke with Ruotolo about high heels, blow-outs, body image and being 4’2” in a 6’0” world.
Clearly, you use stilettos as a metaphor. What do they represent to you?
The shoes are a metaphor for my life. Doctors always said I’d need a wheelchair, that I would have to wear sneaker or orthopedic shoes (Ruotolo has a two-and-a-half-inch discrepancy between her right and left legs; doctors also feared she would constantly suffer bone breaks if she didn’t stay in a wheelchair.) Heels were a way for me to overcome the challenges set before me. Nordstroms carries small size shoes; I’m a size 4, which can be hard to find. When I put on heels, I feel more balanced. I’m happier with how I look. It gives me confidence to know it’s another thing I’ve overcome in my life. (In her Marie Claire essay, "Get Shorty," she wrote, “...I'll buy a dozen pairs of shoes before I'll shell out $99 for a new pair of crutches. [I've had the same crutches for five years now; they're pretty ghetto.]”)
How have you struggled with body image?
I’ve definitely struggled with it my whole life. My legs are completely deformed. Early on, I learned that in order to make myself feel comfortable about my body, I had to dress for my body. My tailor has become my best friend. It might not be exactly what’s in fashion, but I make the clothes acclimate to me. I wear a lot of leggings, a lot of skirts, A-line dresses. I’ve learned what complements my body.
What is like working in the entertainment industry, surrounded by models and actresses?
It’s been a passion of mine since I was a little girl -- I was always singing and dancing. But I’m no Barbra Streisand or Whitney Houston so I turned my passion into a job [that suited my talents.] Last month I was with the cast of Hellcats. I’ve stood next to Heidi Klum on the red carpet and hung out with Beyonce. You have to take your body out of it and look for the experience. If I compared my legs to Heidi Klum’s legs, I’d be in therapy! But it was a wonderful experience to share the red carpet with her. It was fabulous. Everyone is so different. She was born with that body and she’s used her assets and I was born with my body and have turned that into an asset.
Your attitude is so upbeat, but you must have down days. Any tips for getting out of a feel-bad-for-myself funk?
I’m not this shiny, happy person every day. That would be a fictional character. Yesterday I woke up and thought, ‘Ugh, my face is so fat. I need to lose weight.’ I always believe getting your hair blown out is the key to feeling better about yourself, so I went and had my hair blown out. Or I’ll take a walk -- working out gives me an endorphin rush. Or I’ll buy a new lipstick. But what I’m more grateful about is that I can get up and walk and I’m not in a wheelchair, which is something I fight for year after year.
What has dating been like?
I’m in a wonderful relationship right now, but it took me a long time to get here. I was that girl at the bar who would sit on a bar stool so people didn’t know I was handicapped. I had to love myself and believe someone would love me for me and not my physical appearance. I tried internet dating, but it was very difficult. I never identified myself as being handicapped upfront because that’s all people would see. So I went to therapy and figured out how to love myself.
Once you know you’re a good person no matter what height or weight, that’s going to be attractive to other people. I think my confidence is what attracted my boyfriend to me. We were both at a Broadway show and I was walking up a huge flight of steps with a cocktail in my hand and my crutches, too. He tells me he saw me and said, ‘Oh my God, I need to meet that girl!' He looked beyond the disability and only saw my confidence. I always say, ‘Get to know me for five minutes and I promise, the handicap will go away.’
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