The Social Complex

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


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  • November 25, 2013 9:21 pm

    Another Reason "The Hunger Games" Is Awesome: Katniss Is Taller Than Peeta

  • May 22, 2012 8:56 am

    Academic Paper: Male-Taller-Norm is not Universal

    TSC: So, to add more fuel to the fire, I submit for your approval this research paper from scientists at the London School of Economics.  The learned readers of this blog have long known that heightism is a social construct.  But these researchers go even further and hypothesize that even the Male-Taller-Norm is a fairly recent social construct which arose out of the industrial revolution when communities transitioned from being concentrated and highly cooperative to being dispersed and self-reliant due to an increase in the relative number of “strangers”.

    (To be honest, when I first read this paper years ago, I thought “there must be some mistake”.  We live in a modern society which is so awash in heightism that I couldn’t even imagine a society in which short men are not regarded as automatically inferior.  Notice the fact that most people have never heard of this research or anything like it.)

    You can click on the link here to see more information, or you can Download(138KB) the PDF in order to read the entire paper.  Here is the abstract.

    How universal are human mate choices?: size doesn’t matter when Hadza foragers are choosing a mate


    It has been argued that size matters on the human mate market: both stated preferences and mate choices have been found to be non-random with respect to height and weight. But how universal are these patterns? Most of the literature on human mating patterns is based on post-industrial societies. Much less is known about mating behaviour in more traditional societies. Here we investigate mate choice by analysing whether there is any evidence for non-random mating with respect to size and strength in a forager community, the Hadza of Tanzania. We test whether couples assort for height, weight, BMI, percent fat and grip strength. We test whether there is a male-taller norm. Finally, we test for an association between anthropometric variables and number of marriages. Our results show no evidence for assortative mating for height, weight, BMI or percent fat; no evidence for a male-taller norm; and no evidence that number of marriages is associated with our size variables. Hadza couples may assort positively for grip strength, but grip strength does not affect the number of marriages. Overall we conclude that, in contrast to post-industrial societies, mating appears to be random with respect to size in the Hadza.

  • May 19, 2012 7:56 pm

    Women Care More Than Men Who’s Taller

    Alison DeNisco

    My phone gave a satisfying bing as a new message from, the ubiquitous free online dating site, popped onto the screen: “LimeGreenRobot is checking you out!”

    Apparently LimeGreenRobot liked what he saw, and sent me a message asking an important question to consider before even contemplating a first date: “Who is your favorite superhero? I like Captain Planet.” He claimed to be college educated, appeared to be attractive, used correct grammar, and had acceptable taste in music — everything I usually require from an online suitor before I respond. However, his profile said he stands at an elfish 5-foot-5, while I am an Amazonian 5-foot-10. What to do? Dare I dodge OKCupid’s arrow and ignore a potential soul mate, just because of his height?

    How do tall women and short men survive the dating world? A 2008 study of 382 undergraduates in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that both sexes preferred relationships where the woman was shorter than the man. Curiously, the research also showed that women enforced the norm more strongly than men. Twenty-three percent of men but only four percent of women said they were open to a relationship in which the woman was taller.

    "Women’s cultural vision is being feminine, having a man big enough to make her feel protected. Many women hold this stereotype to a point where it excludes a lot of people they might be interested in otherwise," said Dr. Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, and the chief relationship expert for

    Men may be less open to dating a tall woman than they think, she added. “For men, I think the cultural vision of a tall woman is a beautiful woman. While a lot of men don’t want someone taller, they like the idea of a tall woman.”

    Joey Maestas, 23, a digital journalist at Sports Illustrated, is 6-foot-1. A former college football player and wrestler, Maestas said he dated three female athletes who were over six feet tall, including a volleyball player with five inches on him.

    "I personally think dating taller girls is a lot of fun. I love the look people give you when you walk into the room with a really beautiful 6-foot-6 girl," Maestas said, though he admitted, "It gets a little awkward when it comes to kissing, especially when you’re at a formal event and she is wearing heels."

    Nearly half of men in the study indicated that their tallest acceptable date could be taller than them or their height (24 and 23 percent, respectively), while 53 percent required their date to be shorter than them. But a whopping 89 percent of women said the shortest person they would date would still have to be taller than them. Only seven percent would accept someone who was their height, and just four percent would allow for a shorter guy.

    "Women view taller men as more likely to be physically dominant and potential protectors, which provides a feeling of safety," Dr. David Frederick, co-author of the study and visiting professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, wrote in an email. "For some women, being with a taller partner makes them feel smaller, and it is not surprising that some women prefer this given the pressure on women to be slender." Evolutionarily speaking, women may have developed a preference for taller men because of the advantages height provides in male on male competitions, he added.

    Frederick’s claim is in keeping with the experience of Allison Hughes, 25, a 5-foot-8 book publisher from Washington, D.C., who found that dating shorter guys made her feel less confident.

    "When I’m with taller guys I feel more feminine and sexy, whereas when I have been with a guy that’s shorter than me, I feel Amazon-like and beastly," Hughes said. "Which I know is absurd, but it’s just the conditioning I’ve been accustomed to, and it’s hard to break from the norm."

    Back in 2002, ABC News conducted an unscientific experiment to explore how willing women were to date shorter men. They lined up several short men next to tall men, and asked women to choose a date. They gave the short men exceptional résumés, including those for a doctor and millionaire venture capitalist. Despite their glowing qualities, the women always chose the taller men. Some said they would only choose the shortest of the bunch if they learned the taller men were murders or child molesters.

    Some relationship trends are showing a reversal of traditional gender roles, like the rise in breadwinning mothers and stay-at-home fathers, according to a study in the journal Women and Language. Yet dating in the U.S. has remained highly gender-typed in over the past 35 years, according to a 2011 study in the journal Sex Roles. Heterosexual dating followed traditional gender roles for beliefs and expectations, as well as interpersonal actions. Though there was some variation in terms of more women initiating dates, it was not widespread enough to challenge the dominant roles.

    In the height study, there was not a significant relationship between endorsement of traditional gender roles and ideal height in a dating partner for men or women. Women with more traditional gender attitudes tended to be less willing to date short men (5-foot-6 or shorter), and men with similar attitudes reported they were less willing to date very tall women (those over 6 feet).

    Gender differences in desire for a certain type of mate go beyond height and into other physical arenas. In a 2001 study in Sex Roles, researchers examined 547 personal ads, and classified them in terms of the writer’s preference for a thin partner, a physically fit partner, or no weight preference. They then mailed a figure rating scale to the ad writers and asked them to specify both ideal body size and acceptable body sizes for partners. They found that, despite what preference they expressed, women preferred a physically fit partner, while most men indicated that a number of body sizes would be acceptable.

    A few celebrity couples, like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and Mick Jagger and L’Wren Scott, defy traditional relationship height standards, though they often receive criticism from the press. Zoe Williams discussed one way that celebrities in female-taller relationships manage to dodge negative media attention in a 2007 article in the Guardian titled “What’s wrong with tall women dating short men?

    "If the woman is tall and the man is incredibly beefy, so that their weight differential is stacked conventionally in his favor, that will raise very little remark. So, even though Nicole Kidman is substantially taller than Tom Cruise, she is so waif-like that society as a whole wasn’t that bothered by their marriage; Katie Holmes, just by virtue of her broader frame, has suffered more ‘look at your squitty husband’ mockery," Williams wrote. "Weirdly, we still require men to be able to dominate their partner physically, even though there is no place for that in a modern relationship."

    In terms of compatibility, height is far outweighed by personality and lifestyle variables, Schwartz said. That hasn’t stopped the rise of niche online dating sites cashing in on height: claims to be “The Number One Dating Site for Tall Singles and Tall Admirers!” Its competition includes and Traditional dating sites like also allow for people to choose their height preferences in searching for potential dates.

    Cara Strobel, 22, a 5-foot-10-inch pre-med post-baccalaureate student from Rockland, Mass., said finding a taller man is non-negotiable.

    "Technically I’m taller than the average American male, so there is an abundance of guys that are far too short," Strobel said. "It’s a matching issue. I would feel strange being far taller than a significant other.

    "There is definitely societal pressure to date someone taller. A taller woman with a shorter man can absolutely be seen as settling by some people," she added. "I could pass up on an amazing person because of something as silly as this, but it’s something that’s there and probably won’t go away."

    According to Frederick, women tend to be judged on their weight and body proportions, while men tend to be judged on their muscularity and height.

    "But there is considerable diversity in what people find attractive, and the best match for each person doesn’t always come wrapped in a certain height or body type," he wrote in an email.

    And as for the potential benefits of a shorter-man-taller-woman pairing? Besides those you might get from any other relationship, like companionship and love, “She could probably reach higher than he could, and get things off the top shelf,” Schwartz said with a laugh.

    As much as I believe in defying traditional gender roles, I seem to be a member of the 96 percent of women who just aren’t interested. Maybe I’ll be missing out on something great by not replying to LimeGreenRobot. Or maybe there is a slightly taller man in my future.

    TSC: Click on the Huffpost Women logo in order to go to the full site.  The comment section about this article is interesting and red hot. 

  • May 14, 2012 1:36 am

    Gab's Gabbing: "Oh, I didn't notice."


    “You’re so tall!”, these are the most dreaded words of a tall girl. Not only are you stating the obvious, but you’re also reminding the girl of her abnormal height and useless ability to touch most ceilings. As a tall female myself, I find said phrase to be quite annoying. I usually…

    TSC: Comment about what not to say to a tall girl.  The first part brings out my sympathetic and understanding nature.  But those soft and touchy feelings disappear when the tall-man-worship starts.  At the end, she essentially starts complaining that she has to remain single until the short girls finish using the tall guys.  As if there are no other men in existence. 

  • May 13, 2012 11:22 pm

    Oh God, Not This Again.

    TSC: Another advertisement for shoe lifts.  And once again, the marketing strategy is to imply that these shoes give men CONFIDENCE.  It’s apparently not about the height (because that would be cosmetic and therefore, unmanly); it’s about the “confidence”.  Notice how the ad portrays the man with the shoe lifts as well-adjusted and the man with regular shoes as a bumbling idiot.

    And to any new readers, The Social Complex does not endorse any height increasing shoe or product.  To make oneself taller is to adopt a heightist mindset.  That is, it implies that your height OUGHT TO convey social privilege or stigma.  These companies like to feed off of height bigotry and work to convince perfectly fine short men that they are inferior. 

    On the one hand, it is true that a short man would face less individual stigma by becoming taller.  But on the other (more meaningful) hand, a short man who becomes taller is still supporting the social construct that being relatively taller should be socially rewarded while being relatively shorter should be socially stigmatized.  Becoming taller for a short man is like a poker player who slightly improves his hand in a rigged game. 

    Oh no, my friends.  It’s time to fold that hand and tell society to re-shuffle the deck. 

  • April 8, 2012 12:45 pm

    Question for the Ladies

    TSC: I am trying to settle a debate I was having with a regular visitor of this blog.  This question is for the ladies who may be reading this blog.  When you think back to your childhood, do you think that bigger girls were more likely to bully smaller girls?  Or do you remember height and body mass being unrelated to the likelihood of being bullied as a girl?

  • March 22, 2012 7:45 am

    Silly Article Full of Heightism: “Shockingly Short Actors”

    TSC:  Granted, I realize that this is an article from a trashy/shallow gossip website…but still.  I couldn’t give it a pass because the language was too blatantly heightist and it gives a plethora of good examples of heightist phrases which are commonly used in polite society. Here are some examples of the language used here:

    • Shockingly short actors
    • Sometimes our leading men just don’t measure up.
    • The pint-sized Brit we all grew up watching didn’t really grow up.
    • …he’s getting a little help from shoe lifts and thick heels.
    • At a good solid height, Brad seems to actually grow taller with every role.
    • He could be Joe Pesci-short and still look good.

    Hey, Hollywood Actors, Need A Lift?

    Sometimes our leading men just don’t measure up. From sneaky red carpet footwear to generous camera angles, these male stars need a little boost.

    People are growing taller and more rapidly in the United States alone. The average height for a male is 5’10” as compared to 5’7” in 1950. With healthier living and advances in modern science it wouldn’t be farfetched to picture 8-foot tall fifth graders in our near future. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but the notion that art imitates life isn’t always accurate for some of Hollywood’s top actors…

  • March 9, 2012 12:37 am

    Geoffrey’s Musings (The Plight of Tall Women)

    I was recently snared into a discussion about a single post on this blog by an individual who purported to know a thing or two about social justice.  During this discussion, I was criticized for a recent post which extended some very mild criticism towards a woman who burst into a histrionic display of public grief at the prospect of having to be seen standing beside two shorter men during a wedding.

    The crux of the criticism was that I had applied a double standard in terms of sympathy when it comes to short men versus tall women.  So basically, the question being present was:  “Shouldn’t we empathize with tall women who do not conform to gender expectations as we empathize with short men who, by way of their height, also do not conform?  And how can we criticize a woman who is used as a visual prop for the entertainment of others, because of her height?”

    These questions, while perfectly reasonable on the surface, are misguided because they fail to understand the nature of heightism as a matter of social theory and actual practice.  Heightism is a social construct, based on gender norms, which asserts that human height should convey social stigma or privilege.  And as such, there are two elements of this definition that are applicable to this discussion.  One is “based on gender norms” and the other is “should convey social stigma or privilege”.  Truly, a cogent argument can be made that tall women (in a generic sense) do not conform to a gender expectation that women should be petite while men should be tall.   In this we should empathize with tall women because failing to meet social expectations, especially in terms of gender norms, can be a painful experience.  However, hurt feelings do not a systemic discrimination make.   

    Heightism also requires the conveyance of a social benefit or social detriment; a social stigma or a social privilege.  The important thing to realize here is that “tallness” conveys social privilege while “shortness” conveys a social stigma.  So while tall women meet one element of the definition for heightism, they also hold social privilege through their height which benefits them during interpersonal interactions.  Studies have shown that tall women are likely to receive higher salaries in business than short women, and they are more likely to attract attention and command respect by virtue of being taller than those around them.  Tall women often express pride in the social privileges which come with being taller, while bemoaning dating difficulty and other unwanted social responsibilities (such as being asked to reach high shelves for others) which are associated with male gender expectations.    

    And lest we forget, our protagonist descended into a gaping pit of crippling grief and social anxiety at the prospect of having to be associated with a couple of shorter inferiors.  She was not crying because people would assume her less capable, less mature, and less intelligent because of her height.  No, those adjectives are reserved for short people.  Instead, she was upset at the prospect of being associated with short men for the span of five minutes during a public event.  So no, we should not bend over backwards with shared pity in this situation.  Certainly the anxiety which she experienced cannot be compared to the social stigma and systemic cultural barriers which attach to the two men standing on either side of her during the wedding. 

    While some sympathy may be warranted, we owe it to ourselves to discuss these issues honestly.  Remember that we may all attend the anti-heightism banquet, but we must be allowed equal portions.  We may all sit at the tables of brotherhood while snugly positioned in our comfortable chairs of sisterhood, but we mustn’t take up more space than needed.  We may all partake in the creamed-corn of tolerance, the mash potatoes of justice, and the sweet dinner rolls of self-acceptance; but only through hard effort can we sip the lemonade of understanding to wash it all down. 

    And so, to our tall brothers and sisters - you are welcome at the banquet too.  But please check your privilege at the door.  You can pick it back up on your way out.  But mind your foreheads - the door frame has a low clearance.           


    Geoffrey Arnold

  • March 1, 2012 2:46 am

    More Leg-Lengthening Nonsense

    TSC: Found this written by Dr. Paley on his own website.  In between a lot of rather wordy advertising information, you will find these two paragraphs side-by-side:

    Height and age requirements:
    I used to restrict stature lengthening according to maximum height criteria. I currently don’t have a maximum height threshold.  The reason for this is that the risks and complications are independent of starting height. Furthermore the motivation to do this surgery, which in most people is called Height Neurosis or Height Dysphoria is also height independent. I have seen patients who are 5’10” just as bothered by their height as those who are 5’ tall.  Psychological profiles of such tall and short patients were
    the same and the final result was the same. Therefore I don’t feel there is a reason to restrict this surgery by height. Age requirements 18-52.

    Psychological Considerations:
    I also used to use a psychologist to evaluate all my patients before surgery. After more than 20 years I have gotten fairly good
    at doing this evaluation myself. The purpose of this evaluation is to make sure we are not operating upon patients with a body
    dysmorphic psychosis as well as to make sure that patients have the proper support required to undergo this procedure.  Research we did on the psychological evaluation before vs after lengthening, showed that patients were happier after the lengthening and that the body image problems they had before surgery went away. Based on these results I am now making
    this surgery more available to prospective patients. 

    (And by explanation, I don’t mean “he fired his psychologist because he wasn’t being told what he wanted to hear”.  Because we all already know that.)