Hi, greetings from Brazil! I’m a regular visitor to your blog and I congratulate you in this wonderful work. Well, I’m writing because this weekend I was watching the HBO series “John Adams” (Part I) and one particular dialogue striked me. John Adams says to Benjamin Franklin about Colonel George Washington: “A natural leader!”, and Benjamin Franklin replies: “Well, he’s always the tallest man in the room. He’s bound to end up leading… something.” I don’t know if Benjamin Franklin actually said that, but if he did, this is a powerful evidence of the relation between heightism and the origins of the USA.
TSC: Thanks for writing in, my friend. I am familiar with the “John Adams” HBO series (a great miniseries, by the way), and I remember the scene to which you refer. I’m not sure if there is any evidence within the historical record that Ben Franklin actually ever said that about General Washington. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that this is an example of the writers of the show taking liberties with the dialogue in order to convey what people might have said about Washington because he was so tall.
I suspect that most national governments have based some of their leadership selection on heightist ideals. But that’s no different than anything else. Most governments also decided leadership based on race and gender as well. The United States is not special in that regard. And in our defense, the fourth President of the United States, James Madison, was 5’4” tall. Indeed a great short man. He also was the author of the lion’s share of the U.S. Constitution.
So, yes - our first President’s tall height worked to his social advantage. But, it was a short man who provided the intellectual political framework for the Nation.
TSC: Received an e-mail yesterday from a woman who chanced upon this blog. She is a short woman who has had to deal with heightism all of her life and so she wanted to share some of her experiences. It’s these types of perceptions and silent bigotries that we are trying to challenge here. So here is Lili’s e-mail in its entirity (posted with her permission). She is one of Geoff’s Heroes.
I’m a new reader of yours, who stumbled upon your website through Sociological Images. I haven’t dug through a whole ton yet, but from what I’ve read, I see a lot of your posts are about prejudice against short men (or conversely, tall women). Which is great. Anything to expose the very (unfortunately) socially acceptable practices of body-type discrimination is a good thing in my book. However, seeing as you discuss a lot of readers’ experiences and point of views, I thought I’d just throw my two cents in there about my own experiences with heightism.
I’m a short female of 4’10”, though I am usually prone to say “oh I’m 5 feet with shoes on” to satisfy society. Not that I need to.
Just as men are expected to be tall, women are expected to be short. I’ve frequently had men tell me that I’m cuter/sexier/more attractive because I’m short. I do not find this to be a compliment. It just makes me feel worse that I live in a world where my random genetics dictate my desirability, and how my taller female friends are made to feel bad because they happen to be “normal” height.
Let me tell you, despite societal norms, being a short woman is not all it’s cracked up to be. I unfortunately happen to also have a young looking face. (Again, why do I feel the need to say unfortunately? Even someone who actively tries to push against societal ideals can feel bound by them…) It’s an unfortunate trait purely because of all the troubles it has given me. Troubles from the rest of society. As a very short and petite woman with a young face, you can image what life as a 20-something must be like. I frequently ask strangers how old they think I look, and all I can say is apparently I’ve looked 12 ever since I was 12.
Now most people (women) tell me what I blessing I have, how I’ll love this when I’m 40. But this just shows further prejudice in terms of age. Why can’t a 40 year old woman be proud of being and LOOKING 40? I also do not consider this a compliment.
Future blessing or not, appearing 12 now has been nothing but a hassle. Anytime I wish to purchase alcohol, first I’m given looks of horror, then my ID is scrutinized for 20 minutes. I can not go to a casino without first having to check in with security so they can inform the camera-watchers that a “child-like woman” will be on the floor for the day. Even going out to dinner can be a nightmare, as I’m either straight up handed a children’s menu, or the host/ess looks down at me, waist bent to be at my “short level”, and asks in a high pitch tone if I like to color.
Upon hearing my polite (through gritted teeth) response and mature tone of voice, I’m flooded with a sea of shocked expressions and sorries. However, despite their sincere apologies, the repeated discrimination is still demeaning and tiring.
Being discriminated against because I’m short/thought to be a child in itself is appalling. I’ve been cut in line, ignored when I wish to purchase something or ask a question, shoved aside at store shelves so a “taller adult” can pick what they want… it’s ridiculous. Assuming these people think I’m a child, is this how we treat the children in our world? Is the lack of respect because I look like a child, or just because I’m shorter than everyone else?
Needless to say, even if being a more desired, extra feminine woman because of my height was something I was proud of, it still would not be worth the constant discrimination. I almost dread the day I have children, for I can already imagine the looks and comments I’ll receive as a “pregnant 12 year old.”
So in a way, heightism really affects everyone, just as prejudice against overweight people makes thin people just as self conscious. I’m sure tall men have had their share of issues… if anything, just dealing with society’s pressures to have a strong, dominating personality to reflect their tall height must be a chore.
It’s just too frustrating to properly articulate (especially for 2 in the morning) how awful it is to have come so far as a society, yet still be held back by such basic flaws. Everyone is different, we really have no “normal” anymore… and yet discrimination can occur for the most minute differences. As a woman who is also short and physically disabled, not a day goes by that I’m not discriminated against in some way.
Basically, to conclude this by now ranting email, I would just like to thank you for your website. I greatly respect and appreciate anyone who stands up against prejudices of any kind, especially one as infrequently addressed as heightism. It is because of these societal pressures and prejudices that I wish to become a lawyer one day soon. It’s only unfortunate that being a short, female, and disabled lawyer will bring me about a million new discrimination headaches…
TSC: Got this as a reader submission. I almost didn’t post it. I don’t know if this is a Troll Post, or a genuine post from a 6’0” guy who “gets it”. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.
I hate when tall men think they’re so great just because they are tall. Being tall is not an accomplishment. I think the popularity of sports in the US contributes to the “tall is better” mentality. People admire tall athletes; men want to be like them and women want to be with them. Women’s height requirements can be nonsensical; a 4’11” woman saying 6’0”+ is insane. Short men should not wish to be taller because society is causing this. If there was no heightism, there would be less desire to be tall. Be proud of being short, don’t add inches to your height and lie. There are many advantages to being short that are not recognized because of our tall-worshipping society. Travel is easier, you can fit in any car or plane seat. You don’t bump your head on low-hanging objects or shower heads. I’m 6’0 1/2” and I don’t suscribe to the mentality of tall men being better. I never got along well with tall guys; they were always talking about sports. Most of my friends were shorter guys. End the domination of the tall! I consider myself in the average height category.
Anonymous: I would still say that people associate height with masculinity. But then if you have a nationality such as the Dutch which are considered to be one of the tallest, are they considered to be more masculine than the Colombians to choose a random example?
TSC: That is an interesting question, but I believe that it ignores some very important variables. First of all, we cannot conflate the perceptions of a country’s society with that of her Government. So are you asking about our society’s (USA) perception of Dutch and Colombian society or of the Dutch and Colombian Governments?
Surely, as Governments are political institutions as opposed to social entities, the height/gender analysis will not apply.
But even applying such an analysis to entire societies is unwise because the height/gender analysis really assumes interpersonal interactions. Interactions which are impossible between geographically distant societies.
So ultimately, the answer to your question is… “I don’t know”. Does anyone want to take this?
She states in her video that a 5’5 makes her height cut.
She then talks about a guy who is a little shorter than her 5’2 1/2”. Why must this women single out a very small group of men and tell them they are not good enough for her. Although I personally just make her 5’5” inch cut off I think her attack is worse than if she made a video laughing and telling us how all guys under 5’10” were icky.
TSC: This is a reader submission about a man with a rare bone disease who proposes to his girlfriend. This has nothing to do with heightism, per se - but it presents the life-affirming message that love can trump seemingly extreme physical differences.
This young lady has some pertinent advice for any single woman who is having problems finding a man. “Date a REAL man, date a short man”. Or, at least that’s what she should have said. Instead she uses a “please, give them a chance” tone - however, her message is positive overall and quite wise.