Trigger Warning: This is a conversation I had with a fellow subscriber on the Reddit forum for short people called “r/short”. I didn’t want to publish her username and so I just call her a “Reddit Subscriber”. My thoughts are preceded by “TSC”. So, this conversation is especially interesting because the person whom I’m debating starts to use heightism to justify heightism. And notice how subtly it happens. She doesn’t even realize that anything is happening.
Also, there is a lot of talk about racism here and a little talk about male and female attraction and beauty norms. These topics always have the possibility of being offensive, and so if you’re easily offended, skip this topic.
So, I take the position that human romantic attraction does not mix with social justice. In other words, it’s not racist to have racial preferences or requirements when it comes to dating and it’s not heightist to have height preferences or requirements when it comes to dating. My debate opponent takes a different view, but in the process she tries to differentiate racism from heightism by arguing that being a racial minority doesn’t make you inferior to others, but being short DOES make you inferior to others. Of course, that argument cannot abide and I begin to rip it apart.
The most interesting thing is that she is merely articulating what most people believe.
Also, for those of you who don’t know, I’m a person of color (African American).
Reddit Subscriber: Heightism is definitely steeped in social constructs, yes, I totally get that, but are we really going to deny that evolution has no bearing on what people find attractive any-more simply because we live in ‘modern times’?
I’m really not surprised that a lot of women if they had to choose between a short man and a tall man, would go for the tall man. Men fulfilled the protective role in a relationship and tend to be physically stronger and larger than the women. That’s just how it was, and still is. Yes, shorter men can be stronger than tall men, yes being strong at all is hardly a necessity in the modern age, but still, attraction to that trait is still very hardwired into us, just like being unattractive to unsymmetrical facial features which indicates a strong immune system, despite modern medicine making us reliant on that indicator redundant.
Heightism is definitely a problem, and society certainly has a part in that, and it can be addressed. I just find it weird how some of you are so baffled by this particular prevelency in attraction to taller men. It’s evolutionary. Obviously. Being blind isn’t going to change that, having dwarfism isn’t going to change that.
TSC: Don’t conflate heightism and beauty. Heightism refers to a social prejudice…if you’re talking about dating, you’re probably referring to beauty norms.
Also, just from my personal point of view, it’s probably more likely that the evolutionary component of attraction says that women are attracted to male dominance. And height is a cultural signifier of male dominance. Money can also be a signifier of male dominance…or muscles…..or “confidence”….or whatever else. I don’t think there is anything intrinsic about height even in the dating realm. For instance, if a woman was born into a mythical society in which shorter people were perceived as dominant over taller people, she would be more attracted to short men. The “evolutionary component” to attraction is “male dominance” and “tallness” is just a cultural marker for that.
Reddit Subscriber: Um it’s pretty well known that ‘beauty norms’ are very much a part of systematic prejudices. It’s actually a surprisingly huge part of it. Like the idea that non-white people are objectively less attractive than white people, as European dominance in colonial times encouraged the idealization of white traits as the pinnical of beauty. Whiteness and anything related to it became very desireable, and it is still a big problem today, with eyelid surgery and skin-whitening products being a big thing in asia, and the middle east. That is part of systematic prejudice, the idea that other races are objectively less attractive than others is part of racism.
If beauty norms favour taller men that is no coincidence. Beauty norms are a social construct as well.
"That is part of systematic prejudice, the idea that other races are objectively less attractive than others is part of racism."
I don’t think so. I think that systemic prejudices can influence attraction, but attraction isn’t an example of social prejudice. So here, racism influences the beauty norm, but the beauty norm itself is not part of the social construct that is racism.
Think about it. Otherwise, you’re saying that it’s racist for someone not to be attracted to certain races. That doesn’t work for a number of reasons.
Reddit Subscriber: Could you explain to me how that doesn’t work? How writing off millions of very different and (visually) diverse people as unattractive simply due to their race is not racist?
TSC: That’s easy. Racism is a prejudice which we can rightly criticize as immoral or socially unacceptable. That is, one of the key elements of racism today (even if this isn’t explicitly expressed) is that “racism is bad”. Well, if this is the case, then it cannot apply to dating or attraction.
For there to be any concept of “right” or “wrong”, there must be freedom. Not “Free Will” as in “Determinism” (philosophical term), but the type of freedom in which “ought implies can”. That is, something can only be “right” or “wrong” if we are free to choose between at least two different actions. If we have no freedom in the matter, then we have made no moral action.
Racism is a moral action.
And so before we can get to that, we have to get to freedom.
So, freedom is where all forms of ethics or morality flows. Therefore it would be unethical to apply racism to physical attraction because that would take away a person’s physical autonomy. The most basic element of “freedom” is physical autonomy (the right to control your own body), and attraction and intimacy is the highest expression of that right.
Simply, you can’t apply racism to intimacy because racism is a matter of ethics and intimacy is a matter of freedom (personal autonomy). Ethics is a non-question when it comes to physical attraction. You can’t control your attractions, and even if you could….it involves your physical autonomy, which is the basis for the freedom you would need to make a moral action in the first place. Deny that freedom (physical autonomy) and there is no longer a moral choice. So again, racism doesn’t apply.
There is one way around this catch-22. Declare that racism is not a moral choice. That racism is neither good nor bad. But we don’t want to think of racism like that - do we?
Reddit Subscriber: I think we should stop thinking of racism as always being this extreme action or prejudice that automatically makes someone a bad person.
Yes, of course racism is bad, but pretty much everyone is racist in some small way due to how insidious racist values can be when they are constantly perpetuated in our society. I am racist, my friends are racist, my family is racist, we are a product of our environment and our environment is full of double standards and prejudices. And I think it’s our moral obligation to unlearn these prejudices and catch ourselves.
And I believe having this racist attitude when it comes to who people find attractive comes under this insidious form of systematic prejudice. Most men find women with unshaven armpits and pubic hair gross. But that is a completely socially enforced norm that is not substantiated by evolution. It’s more hygienic for both men and women to have under arm hair as it ventilates sweat, but ever since a very effective marketing scheme in the mid 20th century, it is now seen as unhygienic and unpleasant for women to have unshaven underarms and can cause a pretty strong reaction of revulsion in some men. A revulsion that I believe is actually controllable, as it is simply the result of conforming to beauty norms, and in more simple terms, it’s just plain ignorance.
I believe people who write off whole races as unattractive fall under this same category. They are ignorant to the diversity of other races, and they conform to what they see in media and what their peers also think, and today’s society still strongly values whiteness as more attractive. They probably don’t actually find every single member of a race unattractive if they were actually critical about their own school of thought.
"I believe people who write off whole races as unattractive fall under this same category. They are ignorant to the diversity of other races, and they conform to what they see in media and what their peers also think, and today’s society still strongly values whiteness as more attractive."
Well then how is this different than height? If you gathered 1,000 5’6” men in a room, you’d see a huge diversity of people in terms of body types, personalities, looks, races, etc. So how can you say that attraction based on height is based in evolution while saying that attraction based on race is a social construct?
Reddit Subscriber: Because race has no indication of health, strength, and capability to protect.
TSC: This is bullshit. Height has no indication of any of this either. No more so than race. Also, racism is a product of human evolution as well. You can’t say that it’s wrong for people to make dating decisions based on race but right for them to make it on height. They are either both unacceptable or both acceptable. I come down on the side that they are both acceptable because of a person’s right to self-autonomy.
Let’s look at an example. A man is 5’6”. That is all you know. What inferences can you draw about an individual person from this information?
None. No more than the inferences you can draw from the information “a man is Black”.
Reddit Subscriber: I guess all those diseases that stunt growth were just a figment of my imagination.
A short stature doesn’t necessarily mean anything, yes, but it can be an indicator of many things. it’s not a coincidence that so many health problems also have an effect of shortening height, not lengthening it. There are a myriad of factors that contribute to your final height, and being notably short can be a pretty reliable indicator that there is something off with even the most insignificant compound in your body, like cartilage, or ossification.
Remember I am talking about this in evolutionary terms, when our species was still new and the smallest health problem could mean life or death.
No where am i saying that short men cannot be stronger than tall men, or more healthy, I am saying it can be an indicator and in that area it is certainly more reliable than race. Pretty sure there aren’t any debilitating medical conditions that slowly turn you Japanese.
"You can’t say that it’s wrong for people to make dating decisions based on race but right for them to make it on height"
I’m not. Nowhere am i justifying making dating decisions on height or race. I think writing off people just for their height is silly and shallow. heck my boyfriend is achondroplastic and is 4’1” tall. I am simply pointing out why preferences for taller men are so common and prevalent.
"I guess all those diseases that stunt growth were just a figment of my imagination."
You seem like an intelligent person…so I assume that you know the difference between cause and effect. Just because diseases can stunt growth does not mean that people who are short of stature are unhealthy or diseased.
"A short stature doesn’t necessarily mean anything, yes, but it can be an indicator of many things. it’s not a coincidence that so many health problems also have an effect of shortening height, not lengthening it. There are a myriad of factors that contribute to your final height, and being notably short can be a pretty reliable indicator that there is something off with even the most insignificant compound in your body, like cartilage, or ossification."
Again; causation fallacy. There are many diseases which can make one shorter. But being shorter is no indication of a disease.
"Remember I am talking about this in evolutionary terms, when our species was still new and the smallest health problem could mean life or death."
Remember, evolution can also be used to explain why racism exists today.
"No where am i saying that short men cannot be stronger than tall men, or more healthy, I am saying it can be an indicator and in that area it is certainly more reliable than race."
No it’s not. Statistically, African Americans are more likely to be impoverished and have a child out of wedlock. So does that mean that being black is an indication that he might be a deadbeat dad and so it should factor into attraction? Of course not. There is no statistical trend which can tell you anything about an individual person. And what goes for height must also apply to race.
"I’m not. Nowhere am i justifying making dating decisions on height or race. I think writing off people just for their height is silly and shallow. heck my boyfriend is achondroplastic and is 4’1” tall. I am simply pointing out why preferences for taller men are so common and prevalent."
It’s no more common than racial preferences. In fact, the statistics for interracial marriages in the United States are very similar to the statistics for coupes containing a taller women and shorter men. 5.0% of marriages in the United States are between taller women and shorter men (2008). And 2.9% of marriages in the U.S. are interracial (2000).
Reddit Subscriber: I need to stress this again; I am speaking in evolutionary terms. Do you think natural selection gives a shit about cause and effect or causation fallacy? No, it’s simply a way to describe how species change through what genes are passed on. Even though I already said this it seems to need repeating: of course being short does not mean the person is unhealthy or diseased, but if female homo-sapiens grew to avoid smaller males, that would mean they would avoid a lot of unhealthy and diseased males. And this is something that would have evolved millions of years ago before anything remotely resembling humans existed, since ‘runt of the litter’ smallness often equating with unhealthyness or lack of strength has been something in animals since there were animals.
Sure, there are plenty of small males are are healthy and are not diseased, and actually perfectly fine. But in our species, females get the pick, with usually a surplus of potential mates trying to get her attention.
Also because I am speakaing in evolutionary terms your African American statistic means nothing here. Race is no indicator of that whatsoever, ‘african american’ is not even a race, it is a smaller fraction of a race, a population which didn’t even exist before the 16th century, which is absurdly recent to have any effect in any evolutionary way.
I also don’t see your point with the marriage statistics, I don’t care about how common it is? And I’m not arguing about how common or not common either interracial, tall woman/short man marriages are, it is not part of any point I am making. Using statistics from today (from the US no less) about race is not a reliable study whatsoever, for the reason I previously stated. It has no indication of evolutionary grounds.
"Using statistics from today (from the US no less) about race is not a reliable study whatsoever, for the reason I previously stated. It has no indication of evolutionary grounds."
Of course you’re wrong. The reason I provided the statistical data was to counteract your implication that a behavior must have evolutionary roots if the behavior is widespread. So, what I am saying is that the evolutionary factors which apply to height also apply to race.
Let me explain further. There was an evolutionary advantage for women to associate with people who were most similar to themselves in terms of physical characteristics. That is because those who are most closely related to you are more likely to provide protection. This advantage becomes encoded in our behavior over multiple generations so that there is a proportionate natural distrust for other humans who do not look like members of our family or close tribe. This is the evolutionary origins of racism.
Ergo, by your own logic, it makes sense that women have a strong preference for men of their own race. They are hardwired to be attracted to that through natural selection. That’s why there are so few interracial relationships today.
See, it’s the exact same argument you’re applying to heightism. They are the same. Heightism is natural, but so is racism. The distinction you are trying to make when it comes to attraction is completely artificial. I suspect the confusion lies in the fact that you were taught that race is an arbitrary social construct while height is an indicator of health. However, evolution doesn’t care about social justice theory. We evolved to distrust people who don’t look like members of our family group. This evolutionary tendency was apparently passed down in the same way the tendency against short stature was (supposedly) passed down.
They are the same.
But just to throw one more fact into the mix: at least one researcher says the the Male-Taller-Norm is not the product of evolution, but of the Industrial Revolution. There are isolated tribes of primitive people in the world today where the women do not select for male height. If height is a sign of evolutionary fitness, how can this be? http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/24375/
TSC: Clearly, heightism is one of the last socially acceptable forms of bigotry, but does it stand alone? Probably not. Even regularly rejected forms of prejudice can be widely accepted if it is couched in a way that its not so obvious. I was surfing YouTube for clips and I ran across this old clip of American IdolHarmful Asian Stereotype Star, William Hung.
This is probably racism, cleverly disguised as silly fun, on American network television. So, we are not completely alone. Just saying.
TSC: An animated short about a dystopian future society, separated by a short dark-skinned lower-class and the tall White elite. If you’re a fan of science fiction, you have seen similar stories before, but this is still a good example of how systemic heightism and racism can be used to control the masses and maintain social order. The director also borrows from Plato’s “The Republic” and “The Matrix”. (run time: 16:34, requires Flash, and NSFW).
I am starting to really hate my life. I am 5’0” barefoot maybe 5’1” with my trainers and it is absolutely terrible. No one that doesn’t get to know me gives me any respect. I seem to have to work 8x as hard as anyone else to even be treated normally. I get called everything under the sun. Hobbit, oompa loompa etc. For this reason, I can’t stand going out in public. I have been to the club a couple of times and let me just say that me and a bunch of drunk *******s almost always ends up with me sitting there with an odd smile while everyone cracks jokes about me.
I recently started lifting weights and running to try and get more fit looking. But I have little to no motivation to do it because… no matter what I do I will still be short. Chicks more often than not don’t give me the time of day because of my height. If they got to know me I know they would like me. I have an amazing personality. Anyone who gets to know me has told me the same thing. Of course I can’t wear all of this on a badge lol. Idk I am just extremely depressed because it’s sort of like nothing else in my life is bad, except for this and this is something that I can’t change no matter what I do. Why does this exist where the guy has to be taller than the girl? Anyways I guess I just needed to vent a little.
TSC: And so the thread begins. Basically the conversation divides into three groups. The group that says height is no big deal and its all about “personality and confidence”. The group that says that his experience is a product of heightism (social stigma based on height) and that he has to find an individual way to overcome it. And the group that says that short men are inferior and no one cares about their problems.
(to be clear, I don’t put myself in any of these groups. I know that heightism is real, but I don’t think it can be overcome through individual behavior - only through group action and directly challenging the prejudice.)
But here is one part of one person’s statement that illustrates the value judgment people make in regards to heightism which allows them to perpetuate it in good conscious.
I meant NO ONE CARES ABOUT BEING SHALLOW OR HEIGHTISM. AS IN THEY DON’T CARE THAT THEY ARE HEIGHTISTS.
Not that there are no heightists. There are plenty and they are pretty damn proud of it. Who is really going to take them to task on it? It’s not like they’re being racist or homophobic. Bloody hell.
TSC: She is making a value judgment that height SHOULD convey social privilege or stigma. And she does it by illustrating the status quo. Not realizing that racism and homophobia are learned concepts which were developed by thinking people as a way to frame a social problem and give it a name so that it could be combated. At one point in the not-so-distant past, her grandmother would be saying the same thing about “homophobia” that she is now saying about “heightism”. We just need to fight to make it so.
TSC: Read this excellent reader submission about heightism internationally. The writer brings up a very interesting point about how heightism and racism can get conflated across different cultures. Also, the writer gets a considerable amount of “smart points” for using the word “nocive” in a sentence.
Hello, first of all i really enjoy your site and all the interesting topics that come across the whole height subject. One of the things that has always made me very curious is the different perception of heightism in other countries outside the U.S. For what i know the average height there is currently 5’10 (though i may be wrong with my findings), i live in Mexico where statistically as of 2009 studies the average height is around 5’4 in the southern part of the country and 5’7 in the north since it’s closer to the U.S and therefore is a little more developed than the rest of the country. The thing here is, yes it’s a major height difference from the U.S. but there is also a lot of change within the same country. I’m 5’6 and a half and live in the north side, so yes i come across a little shorter than the rest, but the difference is not as marked as if i went to the States and walked around in the streets. Here in northern Mexico you will see anything from 5’4 to 6’ tall men on the streets, but the funny thing here is that heightism alone is not the issue, but rather it’s combined with a sort of race and color discrimination. The north part of Mexico interacts a lot with America so its not rare at all to see people ranging from very white to the more typical “brown” from our native Indian ancestors, but down the south people are almost exclusively more brown colored, so that mixed with the known fact that southern people are shorter leads to a lot of discrimination from the north.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people saying “that fucking Oaxacan (from the state of Oaxaca which has some of the shortest male heights in the country) midget” as an insult or heard numerous jokes and teasing being directed towards the shorter, and darker colored man in a social group. To the “higher class” Mexicans, that brown color and shorter height represents a link to our Indian ancestors (who also get MASSIVE discrimination within the few ancient native groups that remain) that we somehow want to leave behind and we look up to the wealthier nations like the U.S. or the UK and everything that they represent (consumerism, tall white people who look like celebrities, fashion trends, music, etc.) I’m a more brown-like colored man even though my father is rather light skinned, and you can see so clearly the social groups that tend to form in, say the universities and other social places. The whiter (and taller) people hang around with each other and the browner shorter people have other groups, this is of course a generalization since there are a lot of exceptions, but in my point of view i keep seeing so much discrimination in job opportunities and social interactions that sometimes it gets me a little angry and wished that we could have a more tolerant society, towards color and height.
Just to keep things in perspective, i was going out with some friends of mine to a club in the upstate area of Nuevo Leon, and we were 2 short brown men, 2 taller white men, 1 tall white woman and 1 shorter brown woman. From the minute we stepped inside you could see the difference in the look of people when we walked by. My shorter girl friend could not find a single guy to dance with in the whole evening, and then got really sad when she was seeing my other friend getting asked out frequently by a lot of guys. Same with us, i was able to find a girl to talk and dance with, but my 2 taller friends were being approached by so many different women that i couldn’t help to feel a little down and jealous. Call it Napoleon complex or whatever you want, but the fact is there is always a social thing with short people and they will not get the same treatment as the rest.
I guess the whole point of this thing is seeing how heightism is not only present, but also gets associated with other attributes such as skin color in certain parts of the world and leads to an extremely nocive discrimination that divides us and faces us against each other. I’m not sure if that will end one day, but it certainly doesn’t help in the development of our very damaged and troubled country.
"I’m a Korean male of about 5’5”, however, I feel like I’ve never been discriminated against like some of the horror stories I’ve been reading about. I was wondering whether or not it’s more socially acceptable to be a short, Asian male than an other race?"
TSC: Maybe there is a slight hedge against heightism for those who are members of cultural out-groups, such as racial minorities, in any given society. However, the same cultural norms seem to apply in Westernized Asian societies - as this clip demonstrates. This is South Korea, where average male height is pretty similar to the United States at 5’9” (where the U.S. is at 5’10”).
Further disclaimer: An individual’s height preferences in dating should not be taken as direct evidence of heightism any more than an individual’s racial preferences in dating should be taken as direct evidence of racism. In other words, intimacy involves a person’s ultimate personal privilege and we shouldn’t apply normative principles of “right and wrong” to people’s sexual desires. HOWEVER, broad statistics as to dating preferences (and especially “requirements”) in a given society can tell us something about the social conditions in that society which would lead to such a phenomenon. So, assuming that society influences broad cultural norms in dating, we can assume a degree of background heightism may be influencing these broad statistics generally.
To recap through analogy: a person’s decision to enter into an interracial marriage tells us nothing about that individual’s views on race. However, a larger proportional share of the population entering into interracial marriages over time may broadly speak to the levels of racism in that society.
Anonymous: Hey, I've been a follower of this blog for awhile now, and I'm appalled at the concept of heightism. I'm a Korean male of about 5'5'', however, I feel like I've never been discriminated against like some of the horror stories I've been reading about. I was wondering whether or not it's more socially acceptable to be a short, asian male than an other race?
This is an interesting question. I haven’t seen any actually empirical evidence to support the assertion that Asian American men would be exposed to less heightism because of a social stereotype that Asian men tend to be shorter than other races. On the surface, it does make some sense though. That is, if your social group tends to “expect” Asian men to be short, then being Asian and short would be less stigmatized because you meet their expectations. Additionally, if you are a racial minority in a society, being a member of an “out group” could initially shield you from some of the affects of heightism because you could be perceived as “that Asian guy” instead of “that short guy”. That is, your status as a “racial out group” could trump your status as a short male.
However, this explanation probably misapplies the nature of heightism. I don’t think heightism is so much about expectations or “being different”. It is ultimately about gender norms and perceptions of power. So while a person’s initial perception of your height may be skewed because of racial stereotypes, I don’t really think that being Asian would shield you from height discrimination generally.
As with most forms of prejudice, heightism can be very subtle. I’ve never had someone run up to me and slap me in the face for being short (though I’ve had my physical safety threatened before). But I’ve often had people say all sorts of awful things about short people generally while I’m standing right there. Most of it is subtle. As Paul Simon might say, "There were incidents and accidents, There were hints and allegations”. Most people are not going to walk up to you and say “I think you are less capable because you are short”, and yet their behavior might indicate such a belief. Even bigots can have social tact.
TSC: I need to post this apology for something I posted just a few days ago. On October 25th, I posted a New York Times article entitled, Taller People Are Happier, Especially if They’re Male. I critiqued the substantive meaning of the data and what it means in terms of social discrimination. However, I failed to point out the blatant bias within the article’s tone and language itself.
For those who didn’t see the original post, the article is reprinted (in part) below:
White People Are Happier, Especially if They’re Male
By CATHERINE MAPRELL
As I wrote recently in an article on the happiest person in America, white people generally lead better lives than other ethnic groups. How much better? Here are two charts showing the typical levels of well-being in 2010 for men of various races, and then for women of various races:
As you can see, there’s a pretty steady relationship between well-being and lighter skin tone for men. The whiter men are, generally speaking, the happier they are. (Remember, as always, correlation is not causation.)
I’ll let the sociobiologists among you out there theorize about why.
Oh. Wait. That’s not right. Something’s off.
Oh well. I’ll let the sociobiologists among you out there figure out what’s different.