“He’s nice but he’s, like, two inches shorter than me.”
Heard that before, either from a friend or your own mouth? I am a feminist, but as a heterosexual woman I prefer to date guys who are taller than me. I’m not the only one. I’ve automatically dismissed many a potential date because he was shorter than me. Various studies say women in general prefer tall guys, and attribute it to evolutionary preference for big, healthy, protective mates.
It’s a dilemma. I don’t believe in any of that patriarchal “he-man” protector crap. I’m an independent woman and I support myself. I certainly don’t need some six-foot muscular hunk to protect me from bears.
A big part of my height preference is, of course, what I’ve unconsciously absorbed from society. I grew up with the standard Disney princess model of relationships. Disney princesses do not marry the short guy. Hetero couples where the man is shorter often get mocked. I’m ashamed that the thought “If I marry a short guy, I can’t wear heels on my wedding day” has actually gone through my mind. I don’t even plan on getting married.
Part of it is that I’m a tall, broad-shouldered person. Standing at 5’7 in my socks, I am a fearsome sight to behold when I wear heels. I’m a few inches above average for the American woman, but I’m not even that tall.
I think it’s inseparable from the narrative about how tall women are constantly made to feel insecure about their femininity (and short men made to feel insecure about their masculinity). I have heard many a tall ladyfriend say that she doesn’t like feeling “big” around a man she’s dating.
I get hit on plenty by shorter guys, so I never thought about whether men are intimidated by my size. But maybe my issue with shorter guys is that I’ve internalized the idea that I am threatening. Friedman said:
Women who are tall enough to look men square in the eye (or look down on them) are gender transgressors by their very stature. Here’s a fact that tall women learn very early in life: Men don’t like being looked down on by a woman. This reaction–men feeling threatened by my height–seems rooted in the fact that I do not fit neatly into what they think of as “woman.”
I prefer petite woman [sic] to tall ones. My dad was 5’6″ and remarried to a 6’1″ tower of horror.
I’ve only recently started to ease my romantic height requirement. The last few guys I’ve dated have actually been a tad shorter than me. I’m not being any more progressive, though. I still try to correct for the difference by wearing flats and slouching. I was actually a little pleased with this Jezebel post on “meels”, heels for men. I don’t think any of the guys in my Montana hometown are going to start wearing stilettos, but maybe this trend will trickle down until mens’ shoes in the mall will have a little extra lift, which would solve a lot of my problems.
But at what point do we draw the line between our political/social views and what we prefer sexually? Lesbian separatist feminists, like ’70s DC collective The Furies, used to argue that just being heterosexual was perpetuating the patriarchy.
And I haven’t even gotten into gay and lesbian height preferences. I only have conflicting anecdotal evidence for that–I know some gay people who prefer tall partners and some gay people who just don’t care.
I also want to make clear that no matter a man’s height, it’s still most important to me that he be smart, progressive and interesting. As they say, the brain is the biggest sex organ.
What say you, dear readers? Do you have a height requirement? And do you feel bad about it?
TSC: Singer/Songwriter Randy Newman was featured on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” (5/8/13) to talk about his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. During that interview, Mr. Newman get’s a question about his most infamous song, Short People, which seemed to have thrown him off guard and left him scrambling for a non-apology.
For those of you that don’t know, Randy Newman penned and released a song in the 1970’s which probably represents one of the most noxious and offensive examples of naked heightism in modern popular media. In it, the song’s main character asserts that short people “have no reason to live”. You can listen to the entire song here:
Needless to say, most people would never purchase a song with the lyric “Gay People have no reason to live” or “Black People have no reason to live”, or even “Fat People have no reason to live”. But here, people justify their enjoyment of the song by saying that the tune is merely a parody on other types of prejudice and it’s not supposed to be taken literally. They assert that the song is really about racism and how stupid it is to hate people for reasons beyond their control. (Of course, this interpretation of the song doesn’t explain how one can use one form of prejudice to lampoon another).
However, in this excerpt from NPR, Randy Newman completely debunks the “parody interpretation” of the song. Apparently, the song is to be taken literally - except that the song’s protagonist is supposedly a crazy person.
So, the song has nothing to do with racism. Mr. Newman admits that his album needed an “up [beat]” song and that this bit of bigotry was the first thing that popped into his head. So, he thought that it would be a good idea to make a song about it.
During some portions of the interview, you can almost hear some regret in his voice (like when he sighs at the wedding story). But ultimately, he defends the song by saying that he didn’t know that it was a “sensitive topic” at the time (TSC:cop out). He goes on to say that he can understand why a child may be hurt by the song if his classmates taunted him/her when the song was popular.
Ultimately, it’s clear that he doesn’t like talking about the song, and the interviewer mercifully moves on. Listen to the interview excerpt here:
TSC: Wow. This is one of the most touching and personal accounts relating to heightism that I’ve ever read. Her experiences are especially poignant because she bravely talks about body self-image issues which caused her to severely internalize the social stigma. And for those that don’t know, BDD sands for Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I received penannaoverthesky’s permission to reblog this entry.
And congratulations to her on getting this far. Now if we can only get you to reject that whole Leg-Lengthening fantasy.
(As a side note. If you know me personally, as in, we see each other beyond tumblr dashboards, you literally have my permission to actively tell me if you see me stood on my tiptoes or putting my feet in a tiptoe position. Point it out verbally, or tap me on the shoulder and point at my feet, try not to make a big deal about it. I just need to be more aware of when I’m doing it it order to curve the behaviour, and I figure I could use some help.)
One of my favorite blogs here on tumblr is a heightism blog called The Social Complex, and it’s one of my favorites because, heightism is one of those things that I’ve always felt and seen and heard being done to me and others, but I just thought I was being over sensitive. In fact peoples reactions to me telling them off for heightist behaviour was usually “Stop being over sensitive,” and at the same time “Can’t you take a joke?”
I know a lot of people have friendships based around humour types, ‘the more I insult you/the more of an arse I am to you, the more I care.’ which, works fine for some people. But friends who make jokes at my expense and treat me badly for their amusement are not the kind of friends I want, it never has been and it never will be. I tolerated a lot of humour types from friends even though they were offensive to me because, generally, I figured I got more out of the relationship to outweigh the bad things. I kept my mouth shut a lot more than people realise when I felt insulted, and I still do.
The only person in the world, I, generally, 9 times out of 10 will not keep my mouth shut with, is my father, because I’m literally 1 million percent done with him.
For years I thought my height was a problem I had to change. And I was taught that by people who made me feel as though my lack of height made me a lesser person, made me a child. Once during a meetup with friends down in London, a few people ran through revolving doors, and I struggled a lot with social confidence back then, so it took me a few minutes to join in, but when I did? “Ugh, that’s so childish Laura.” About 3 other people had ran through those revolving doors, but the second I did it, it was childish. And this came from a friend who repeatedly tried to ‘make light’ of my height, repeatedly used my person as an arm rest, repeatedly tried to pick me up because it was funny to him.
My height is not a joke point for anyone. And reading through The Social Complexes posts today, I realised something. My height, as problematic as it can be, I have accepted.
I’m going to repeat that. I have accepted my height.
If you don’t get how big a deal that is, try to imagine always feeling like a child, always feeling small and weak, always feeling as though your voice doesn’t matter because you are a child, always have to ask for help for things because you’re just so useless and you can’t do anything for yourself, always getting upset because when you do ask for help, people pat you on the head, patronise you and ask you if you want them to pick you up so you can reach.
My self-heightism is and was ignrained into me by the behaviours of others and then compounded by my BDD. And 90% of BDD recovery is figuring out where the hell the behaviours and thoughts come from.
I hated my height so much, I’ve done permanent damage to the bones in my feet which can only be corrected by surgery, (which the doctors also won’t do, because it’s not yet pronounced enough, and I will likely have to have the surgery repeatedly through my life, so the easiest solution is to leave my feet in pain) because I have spent, literally, the entirity of my life, walking on my tiptoes. Even when I’m wearing shoes, or when I don’t need an extra inch or two to reach something. I think the only times I can safely say my feet aren’t in tiptoe position, is when I’m walking in flat shoes, or sleeping. Even now, I’m sat with my legs crossed on my chair and my toes pushed against it so they’re pointed. It’s an ingrained behaviour I learnt so I could always be taller without putting heeled shoes on.
When I told my mother about the damage in my feet, she didn’t believe me until I showed her, and her first response was “but you hardly ever wear high heels.” I had to point out it’s because I’m always walking around on my tiptoes, and the penny dropped.
But even though I’ve accepted my height, the behaviours are hard to break, because they’re sub-conscious and self-conscious by this point, I do them without thinking. But I am getting better. If there’s something I need to do that requires me to be able to reach, I’ll try it once, or twice, then if someone’s there, I’ll ask for help ,or accept their help if it’s offered. I can’t tell you how happy I was when two of my friends moved house, and the first time I visited I was told there was a stool in the kitchen. Even thought they bought it for themselves and their shorter friend/s were an after-though (quite rightly so), that little thing was so uplifting. I’ve concluded multiple times that those two friends are awesome, and I don’t think they’re ever going to be not awesome because they’ve both done a lot for me.
One of the posts The Social Complex made today was about leg-lengthening surgery, which will, likely always strike a chord with me. Years ago I was utterly, utterly obsessed with idea of having surgery on my legs. At first it was because of my height. every christmas, every birthday, every time during my teenage years I was able to make a wish or request of some higher power or myth (i.e. birthday candles) I made the same request; “Please just let me grow to 5 feet.” Obviously it didn’t work. But I’d been told repeatedly by my mother that I’d grow, that I’d be taller than everyone else when I ‘grew up’. And it’s so easy to connect phrases and words like ‘grow up,’ ‘be an adult’ and ‘be mature/stop being immature’ to height. It really is. When it became obvious I’d stopped growing at 4’10” thanks to my bone condition, I hated myself.
It was around the time I’d been referred to a surgeon at Alder hay hospital, a surgeon who had offered to correct my legs. And I pushed it. I begged my parents, I begged the surgeon, hell I even begged the receptionist. I didn’t care what pain I had to go through, how many years of my life it would decimate. I wanted my bone condition gone, I wanted to reach 5 feet.
Puberty is the worst time to realise you hate yourself because it’s just compounded by everyone else. And I know if those years had gone differently my BDD wouldn’t be as prominent as it is now, and the worst part is, my case of BDD isn’t as bad as it could be compared to other people who suffer with it. At least that’s what I tell myself, my therapist thinks otherwise.
I have accepted my height. I’ve accepted that I’m always going to need help to reach things, that sometimes I’ll have to ask for help, and that some people will be horrid heightist pricks just because they can and they don’t know any better. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give them shit every time I hear a “How’s the weather down there.” joke. (True story: my first boyfriend in high school asked me this once, you know, the abusive one? My response - because I was already pissed at him - was to kick him in the shin and put him on the floor (let’s face it, he deserved it) before saying “I dunno, you tell me.” Funny how all my proudest moments of my teenage years involve giving my abusers shit they deserved.)
Sadly, while I’ve made progress in one area, I’ve yet to make progress in others.
I still want that surgery, because I’ve not accepted my bone condition and what it’s done to me. I would still endure years and years of pain and extra surgeries and days, weeks, months of laying in bed in agony and months more learning to walk again, because I hate my legs that much. My head hates my legs, my heart hates my legs, my BDD hates my legs. If I were prone at all to self harm of a severe scale, I probably would have tried to cut them off - and I have had dreams about cutting off various limbs of mine and feeling happier once I’d done it.
But pros and cons. I have accepted my height. And any progress is good progress. Right?
Just discovered the anti-heightism movement on Tumblr/the internet as a whole, and working out whether it’s an MRA parallel to feminism’s fat acceptance movement. I can’t tell yet. Much of the heightism stuff looks really resentment-fuelled with massive undercurrents of “all women are evil bitches…
TSC: This is a serious problem. I’m not really clear on how the heightism issue became associated with MRA, but it has nothing to do with it. Heightism is a social prejudice which is based in gender norms, but it isn’t about resentment - it’s about tolerance. And, the focus of our efforts should not be on physical attraction, but on social justice and challenging a systemic cultural prejudice which ultimately demeans people of all heights. When the majority of a populace believes that height affects the intrinsic worth of human beings, there is a problem. And that problem is especially bad when everyone recognizes the prejudice on some level, but it is so normalized that challenging it produces an unsettling feeling because it’s disruptive to the social order.
Notice how defensive people get when they are first introduced to the idea that it is wrong to stigmatize people based on their height.
Why the hell is there a “heightism” tag on tumblr full of shorties complaining and blaming organized discrimination perpetrated by “the system” for their own failures in life?
TSC: “Shorties”, huh? I wonder if discussing other forms of social prejudice represent people “blaming organized discrimination….for their own failures in life” or if it’s just heightism? So, for instance, is feminism “a bunch of “chicks” complaining and blaming organized discrimination perpetrated by ‘the system’ for their own failures in life”?
It’s funny how some people try to deflect the blame from those who practice and perpetuate prejudice, onto those who are disadvantaged by it.
TSC: I think we all saw this coming sooner or later. Pretty much all of these Doctors who perform cosmetic leg-lengthening surgery on people with height dysphoria are lacking in ethical judgment, but here we have a Doctor who is taking it to a whole new level. Apparently, Dr. Shahab Mahboubian has purchased some trashy billboard advertising in the Los Angeles area in order to shame short men into giving him $100,000 a pop for leg-lengthening surgery.
Some of you will remember Dr. Mahboubian from his youtube advertisement on leg-lengthening. Well, he’s back with some of the same old tricks. This folks, is the definition of “some shameful shit”.
“This ought to reel ‘em in! I’ll make these shrimps think that they can’t get the girl without paying me $100,000! It’s so crazy that it just might work….muuuuhahahahahah!”
Anonymous: Just wondering, what is with Caesar? Was he short or do you just like the guy?
TSC: Honestly, I just thought he would be a cute mascot for the blog. I made his skin grey so he’d be like an animated marble statue of Caesar. And, I’ve seen accounts that Alexander the Great was a short man, but nothing much about Julius Caesar. The best sourced information I could find says that a well fed Roman soldier was between 5’6” and 5’11” and so Caesar was probably within that range as his height is rarely mentioned.
TSC: What is it about car advertisements and height?
So here is a new European Volkswagen ad that uses height as its primary theme. It’s somewhat similar to the infamous Honda CRV ad from ten years ago because the premise of this ad also relies on the idea that a woman must not date a shorter man. Or that tall women must find a taller man at any cost (even though its like “looking for a needle in a haystack”, as the background music asserts). It seems that the grand take-away from this ad is that a tall woman should attach herself to the first taller guy that comes along - even when he happens to drive a horribly ugly Volkswagen.
Ultimately, large corporations which try to profit off of corrosive gender norms should be discouraged from doing so in the future. Dating necessarily involves personal choices. But popular culture influences our choices and when large corporations promote ideas about what couples “should look like”, it can take us down a troubling slippery slope. For instance, here Volkswagen is casting the Male-Taller-Norm as a social virtue, thereby perpetuating it as a hallmark of cultural cohesion. One could argue that this sort of message is bad for supposedly egalitarian societies such as ours - societies which strive to maximize our freedom to choose what makes us happy without being widely shamed for those choices.
But, I’ll at least say that this ad is MUCH less offensive than the Honda CRV ad, even though it relies on the same theme. Here, like in the CRV ad, the woman is disappointed to see shorter men potentially expressing romantic interest in her. But at least in this ad, the short men aren’t made to look like immature idiots or mere hollow props for the narrative. The short men in this ad seem like actual people - like real human beings. Which is more than what can be said for the Honda CRV ad.
And here is an old critique I did of the Honda CRV ad. The real point of this video was to test some of the animation I was doing for this blog at the time, but it’s still fairly entertaining and so I’m posting it for giggles.