One Man’s Great Gift: Not Fitting In

Sara Bliss
·Senior Writer

Photo: Rob Shuter

Rob Shuter may be a gossip columnist, but the airbrushed perfection of celebrity doesn’t hold much intrigue for him.  In fact, the host of Vh1’s The Gossip Table is far more interested in their flaws—in a good way.  That fascination with imperfection is one of the reasons he’s been so successful, yes, but it also stems from a deeply personal place. Due to a botched metal forceps delivery at birth, Rob, now 40, was born partially deaf and with severely limited function in the one arm that is shorter than the other. Shuter’s own experience made him not only interested in what distinguishes people from one another, but also confident in his own differences. “It really was such an amazing thing to happen in my life,” says Shuter. “It taught me from a really, really early age that not quite fitting in is truly a great gift.”

Where does one gain such confidence? Shuter credits his family with helping him thrive in spite of his special needs. “My mum, God bless her, taught me that being different wasn’t just fine, it was great,” he says. That perspective helped him handle the many challenges he faced, including the years it took for him to learn how to walk and master his balance. He spent months on end in the hospital due to multiple surgeries and, needless to say, couldn’t participate in any sports. “I couldn’t run because I would fall over,” he says, laughing.

Being the object of scrutiny as child affected not just how he saw himself, but how Shuter saw other people who didn’t quite fit in. “I was always a bit invisible because people didn’t really know what to say,” he says. “It made me really aware of how I look at people: I make eye contact; I really listen. I try to not judge a book by its cover and to find beauty in the oddest places, the sort of places that are not embraced by everybody.”

That’s why he never covers up his arm and speaks so openly about his experience. “I have got a huge scar down my arm and if somebody asks or looks at it weird, I don’t feel bad for me or bad for them, I am like, “Let me explain it to you, it was really smashed up,” he says. “It’s true in beauty too, you notice things on your face or your body that nobody else does. The more out in the open my arm is the less people notice it.” And that was the revelation that changed Shuter’s life. “If you have a spot on your face, you really don’t need to cover it up, just own it! If you are losing your hair, own it! The amount of effort and time people spend trying to cover something up, even their own personalities, is ridiculous. Just find the truth.”

That candor has translated well in his professional life. The former publicist and gossip columnist refers to himself on his website as Naughty But Nice Rob. He’s honest about the stars foibles, but he tries to do it through a lens of humor and kindness, the same way he treats himself. “I think this is why I’ve been so successful on TV, because what you see is what you get. All these people starve themselves before they go on TV because they think they have to be skinny. But people watching really look like regular people, not everyone looks like Tyra Banks or Bethany Frankel,” he says. For Shuter, the perspective of acceptance has been incredibly freeing.  “When I look through magazines and see these models with these six-pack abs, I wouldn’t want that, it would look ridiculous on me! To grow up not being part of that world was fantastic. You can’t try to have two good arms if you don’t have them, so I threw away all those wasted hours of trying to be someone I wasn’t from an early age.”

“I marched to the beat of my own drum because I had no option,” Shuter says. “I had to put up with it and learn to love myself.” He hopes more people can learn to do the same.