The view from the top
Hello, my name is Hattie — mostly known as tall girl, leggy blonde and limbs McGee (just to name a few). The height of my problems started when I grew to be 6ft at the early age of 14. I have been looking down ever since. Generally living in an unaccommodating environment, I regularly face difficulties and awkwardness when going about day-to-day life.
Allow me to give you an idea of what it’s like to walk a mile in my (size 8) shoes.
Firstly, you’d have to walk back about 10ft to see what you look like in a mirror. Then you’d probably notice that your sleeves stop before your wrists and your jeans don’t reach your ankles. Short dresses will be too short and long dresses won’t be long enough. You’ll have to watch out for door frames and low hanging lights, while shower heads will now be more like shower chests. In any mode of transport, your knees will be in your ears and you’ll have to become adept at folding yourself into cars.
And then there’s human interactions... wow, what a time. People will automatically look down at your feet to see if you have heels on. And if they do see a pair, they’ll wonder why on earth you’re wearing them. Then they’ll follow up with one/all of these pointless questions:
‘Wow, how tall are you?’
‘Do you play basketball?’
‘You must model’
‘How's the weather up there?’
Just yesterday, a man yelled, ‘Wow, you are a fortress madam!’ as I sped past him on my bike. Cheers mate.
Boob-to-face hugs will become the uncomfortable norm when greeting friends. In supermarkets, you will be everybody’s personal crane with strangers proclaiming, ‘Oh, you're tall – can you reach that?’
And finally, you can probably cancel any dates you have planned. Because apparently, women can't be taller than their significant other. If a short girl dates a tall guy, nobody bats an eyelid. But if a short guy dates a tall girl? Everyone loses their minds.
In today’s society, people don’t seem to think it’s wrong to make these comments or hold these prejudices. However, passing judgement on nearly any other aspect of someone’s appearance, weight or race for example, is a clear taboo. Despite this being perceived as a more liberated time, height-based discrimination appears to be the exception. And the impact is no small issue.
At either end of the height spectrum, the power of perception can really affect an individual’s life. Being the ‘wrong’ height for your gender breaks social norms, yet is something completely beyond your control. Women are meant to be small, graceful and take up less space, while men are expected to be tall, macho and command attention. And from social encounters to potential partners, jobs to health or fertility, the list of resulting challenges is endless.
For instance, did you know that there is a height ‘premium’ in employment? On average, taller people are deemed more authoritative and said to have leadership skills, giving them more confidence because they literally look down on everyone else. The combination of these attributes makes them more appealing as an employer and are therefore better paid. Crazy, right? On the flip side of this, shorter people are often infantilised and underestimated in the workplace, effectively meaning they are unfairly taxed for their height.
Height can also have a heavy influence on relationships. Studies have shown women prefer taller men, which is likely to be driven by both evolution and societal stereotypes. A tall man is associated with a higher social and professional status, as well as seeming to better fit the role of ‘protector’, offering greater reproductive potential. On the other hand, men are drawn to women who are shorter than them. In our evolutionary past, tallness in women was a negative cue for fertility and men typically say they feel ‘emasculated’ if they are shorter than their partner.
All around the world, there have been extreme responses to the issues of relative height, and they still persist today. Shorter men can undergo leg-lengthening surgeries, taking 12 months to heal and excruciatingly painful, all to gain a couple of inches. In the past, there’s even been an estrogen treatment to halt growth in young girls if their parents feared they would grow too tall and become unmarriageable. And in today’s ever-growing online dating culture, people often lie about their height to avoid rejection, revealing that it’s still a huge factor in low self-esteem.
Ok, mile over. Things aren’t looking up so much now are they? But I don’t want to blow things out of proportion… my generation has a habit of amplifying things into a more serious social justice issue than they need to be. And in this day and age, we definitely have bigger battles to fight. But it’s just worth remembering that everyone has their differences – that doesn’t mean we should treat anyone differently because of them.
Hopefully, we can all see eye to eye now.