The Social Complex

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A Blog dedicated to the exploration of height bias and discrimination.



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  • January 30, 2012 5:46 am

    Cosmetic Surgery verses HGH for Healthy Children

    TSC: Here is another must read from Aeon_Blue.  The issue being discussed here is whether a parent who gives her female child a voucher for liposuction and other cosmetic surgery is analogous to a parent who gives her male child Human Growth Hormone injections in a bid to “cure” his idiopathic short stature (genetically caused)

    To be clear, we are comparing cosmetic surgery for children with (non-medical) growth hormone injections for children.  No one is arguing that Growth Hormone should not be provided to a child who has an underlying medical condition, just like no one is arguing that surgery should not be provided to a child burn victim in order to save his/her life. 

    But still, some would argue that the social stigma which arises from being a “severely short” male child would be so great as to constitute a medical condition while the social stigma which arises from not meeting female gender expectations would be minor and trivial. 

    I disagree, and apparently Aeon_Blue disagrees.  You have GOT to read this:

    I think this article raises interesting questions about what we regard as cosmetic procedure and what we regard as medically necessary.

    For the wealthy, tummy tucks and breast enhancements are part of a woman’s responsibilities to look good. (And even the average housewife is taking pole-dancing classes these days). By virtue of her socioeconomic background and beauty (bought and nature-made), this little girl is unlikely to marry poorly. If she ends up in porn, it’s going to be because she wants to, not because she has no other choice. What’s wrong with that? Well, it’s disturbing that a child is already looking forward to the day when she can mutilate her body to satisfy an unappeasable insecurity, or learn that teasing a man might be among the most important roles she can perform. What’s at the root of this is an inability to be satisfied with what one was given.

    And I think that is what is also at the root of Jeffrey Stern’s case. Is being short a medical condition? For those that can afford it, it looks like it is. The only symptom mentioned in the article is shortness, and it goes out of its way to point towards a trend of, as Geoff says, “idiopathic shortness.” That’s cosmetic, not life-threatening. This woman talks about what nature owes her son like medical intervention is necessary, but the truth is that his nature is how he was born. You can’t say he should have something, just because his parents did. I don’t think we could get away with saying that someone is “owed” beauty because they have beautiful parents. For some reason, it works with height, though.

    Sarah Burge’s first major cosmetic surgery was a correction after she suffered disfigurement from domestic violence, and then her desire for beauty got out of control. Stern’s hormone injections began as a medical “correction” too, but the way his mother speaks, you’d think he couldn’t grow tall enough. She’s suing her insurance company to make sure he grows taller, even though he’s well past the height where he would be majorly impeded in life. Both parents are taking it too far because, when a capitalist society tells you that you have flaws you can “fix” with money, you’re never going to be satisfied. Can’t be thin enough; can’t be tall enough.

    Both parents are hounded by the same beasts: Insecurity. Gender performance. Social expectations. Burge is reprehensible because we know people should learn to accept themselves for who they are (or, at the least, pay for their physical improvement with hard work, like we poor people have to do.) Why aren’t we inclined to think of shortness in the same way? Why is this kind of forced bodily change so much better than another kind? One pain better than another? Why is it easier to feel entitled to height than it is firm breasts?

    I think part of the difference must be sexuality and prestige. It’s easier to dismiss a desire for sexual attractiveness because that’s degrading. Height, however, *is* prestigious. It’s one of the ultimate vehicles of prestige. It’s also about disadvantage. Unquestionably, it’s more difficult to be a short man than it is to be a woman lacking a porn-star body. It’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to appear “normal.” This may explain why you believe that Burge is being irresponsible by making her daughter fit for porn, without believing the boy’s mother is irresponsible for grooming her boy to be an alpha male?

    I think the main crime Burge has perpetrated is that her daughter may have to pay for the way people view her for embracing the commodification of her sexuality. I don’t think Stern is going to suffer for undergoing what many people view as medical “correction”. But that’s what makes it particularly insidious, in my opinion. It’s more reinforcement of the privilege height has in society - like, it’s so important that it’s something you’re owed? That few people will question whether it was necessary? The idea that one should accept their shortness, instead of viewing it as a flaw to fix, seems so radical. That’s worth thinking about.

  • August 10, 2011 9:10 pm

    The Science of Shortness

    Parents need to grow up.

    Since human growth hormone was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2003 to treat unusually short but otherwise medically normal children, a great deal of research has gone into trying to prove why a couple of extra inches are crucial for an undersize kid. As endocrinologist Alan Rogol put it, “Short stature became a disease when unlimited amounts of growth hormone became available.” Last week, a story in the New York Post added some class frisson to the issue, reporting that “at least” six sophomores at the exclusive Dalton School were taking HGH to augment their height. The family of 16-year-old (and five-foot-seven) Jeffrey Stern was reportedly suing the family’s insurance provider for not paying for continuing treatment—nearly $30,000 a year—in order for Jeffrey to reach, in the words of his mother, Margot, “the height that’s owed to him.” The Post argued that HGH treatments “are being used increasingly by wealthy parents looking to give their children a leg up.”

    When Eli Lilly applied for FDA approval for using HGH to treat kids with “idiopathic short stature,” meaning at or below the 1.2 percentile on the growth chart, the widespread assumption among doctors was that short stature is a psychological disability and that adding inches increases psychological well-being. Indeed, the company strove mightily to produce data showing that short children who used HGH had a measurable improvement in their psychological “quality of life.” The thing is, Eli came up empty.

    A consensus document approved last year by the pediatric-endocrinology community acknowledges that there’s no evidence that growth hormone enhances quality of life in short but medically normal kids. One European study compared adults who had used HGH as short children against others who were similarly short in childhood but hadn’t used the drug. They ended up essentially the same psychologically in adulthood—except that, oddly, the HGH users were less likely to have romantic partners than nonusers.

    I was a 59-inch, 82½-pound quivering mass of delayed manhood when I entered high school. That put me in the first percentile in the growth chart during the worst stretch of persecutorial life span imaginable. For a while, I felt that every shortcoming—no girlfriend, no athletic glory, no swagger—stemmed from being short. But even after ending up about five foot six, I eventually realized that height didn’t matter much—not to romantic partners, not in terms of gaining the esteem of work colleagues, and ultimately not to my own sense of self.

    Maybe I had to work harder. But, as David Sandberg, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, has long argued, short kids do fine in the long run—finer than some of their peers, in fact, because of the adversity they’ve experienced and the resilience they’ve developed. Conversely, he wonders what messages children internalize when their parents perceive physical size as a problem.

    Which isn’t to say that short kids have it easy. A number of studies have confirmed the social bias against the undersized. And the height-to-salary correlation has been so strong in some studies that several years ago, economists based at the University of Pennsylvania argued that the use of HGH treatment for 16-year-olds could be justified as an economic decision. But greater happiness and psychological well-being? Definitely … not.

  • August 6, 2011 1:48 am

    Heightism from a Mother's Perspective

    This is amazing.  Everyone should read the Original Post and all of the comments that follow.  

    So i was watching a documentary called “S&M: Short and Male” and it pretty much discusses the difficulties short males have in our society. The narrator says that a tall male is seen as powerful, intelligent, Mature and attractive, while shorter men are looked at as the exact opposite. I didnt catch the first 10 minutes so i dont know what they consider short. In China they consider it 5’5” and below so it must be higher in north America, i’ll say under 5’7”.

    They did a study with woman to see if height matter more than anything else. They lined up 5 gives of various heights. Guy number 1 was the tallest (at least 6ft) and he was a school teacher. Guy # 2 was a pediatrician and much shorter. I dont remember the rest but every girl picked guy number one. The the administrator would reveal less attractive information about the taller guy and more attractive information about the shorter guy and even though the girls admitted the shorter guy was more attractive on paper, the would still date the taller guy.

    They also said that a vast majority of people are heightist (they discriminate against short males), but the problem is that they dont realize they are that way but that they subconciously discriminate against them, whether it be by giving a taller guy the job vs. the shorter guy. Only dating tall guys, thinking of short guys as being younger, immature and treating them with less respect.

    Do you believe there is Heightism? (people discriminate against a short male)

    Do you consider yourself Heightist?

    and if so do you think its something that you want to change?

    Have you or someone you know had experience with this?