How Much Does Height Matter To You?

19 Feb

Mann und Frau
As I wrote on Facebook after I saw friends posting them, I really don’t like those #TinyTrump memes. I’m not outraged. I’m just really, really uncomfortable whenever human size is used as an insult or a sight gag. (And yes, I have had friends and admire several human rights activists who are almost as short as Trump appears in those memes.) Being physically small isn’t hilarious or humiliating. It just is.

200 years after Napoleon, political discourse is still rife with the insidious concept of small man syndrome. Male acquaintances still report conversations coming to a screeching halt on Tinder after they answer an interested woman’s inquiry after their height. So here is an old, popular post on the subject that is just as apt as it was when I first published it:

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. I did not undergo limb-lengthening to “look normal.” I did it to function better in everyday life with less difficulty and less pain. Height has mattered tremendously to me as an issue of accessibility. But as an issue of social interaction, I tend to find it only slightly more significant than eye color.

Throughout high school, I had a Yoko Ono quote taped to my bedroom wall: “You call me ‘little,’ but I have a universe in my head.” Every teen needs role models. I got excited when I lived for six months in southern France, where I encountered several women my size. There is something inexplicably pleasing about being at eye-level with someone. Which is what made the moments when guys have gotten on their knees to dance with me utterly touching.

But my husband stands at 6’5” (1.96 m), more than a foot taller than I am. Being at eye-level with someone can feel important, but it’s not that important.

And we’ve gotten compliments for being such a striking couple due our height difference. (Should we thank John and Yoko for blazing the trail?) But as said before, when we tell our loved ones what exquisite hair or adorable hands or gorgeous eyes they have, it’s more a display of affection than a statement of what we require to be intrigued. When we tell someone, “You are so beautiful,” and we mean it, it’s a testament to the sum of their parts.  To the entrancing union of their perfections and imperfections. Height is what you make of it.

I generally find a preoccupation with height amusing. When my father-in-law, who is from the Black Forest, married my mother-in-law, who was from Stockholm, they had their wedding photos shot only in close-up, so that you can’t tell that he was standing on a box.

When I was undergoing my first limb-lengthening procedure at age 11, I explained to one of my teachers, “I’ll never be super-model tall. The muscles tighten up when you stretch them and that’s why there is a limit to how far you can lengthen your legs.”

“Well, that’s actually good for you as a girl,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, you wouldn’t ever want to be too tall and end up walking alongside a man who’s shorter than you!”

I looked at her quizzically and then smirked to myself. Sure. That was my first concern about undergoing limb-lengthening.

Eighteen years later, as I prepared my wedding, I came across a discussion on a forum for brides-to-be about the ubiquity of complaints about heels that were too high.

“Why am I hearing so many comments about not wanting to be taller than your husbands?” the main commenter wrote. “I mean, seriously? This is the 21st century. We’re all liberated about LGBT rights and feminism and healthy body image and equality, but we’re still convinced it’s unfeminine for a woman to be taller than her husband?”

Nine out of ten of the replies all said, “Well, I don’t want to look like some freak.”

This week, HuffPost Live features an interview in which dwarf reality TV star Ben Klein reveals his past struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts due to social isolation and bullying. Earlier today on Germany’s ZDF Sundays morning news show, opera singer Doris Michel revealed that no man has ever been able to get over her dwarfism and see her as a romantic partner.

It’s easy to shake our heads and feel sorry for these individuals, and then to be inspired by the courage they have demonstrated in overcoming such hardship. We praise them for raising their children to be self-confident enough to face adversity. But when the adversity is inflicted by our society’s lingering attachment to something as silly as height, it is crucial that we own up to our collective responsibility for it.

We have to ask ourselves, Is my daughter the type to trash other girls’ bodies? Does she look up to women who do? Would my best friend snicker at dwarf-tossing? Would the guys I hang out with shout at a dwarf in the street? Would I be brave enough to call them out on it? Have I ever accused someone of having a Napoleon Complex? What do I think of when I think of a freak?

Surely if Klein and Michel can overcome bullying and denigration, we can overcome any hang-ups we have about size.  And in the nature vs. nurture debate, we gotta stop saying “nurture” and start saying “culture” because it takes more than one set of parents to change the world.


14 Responses to “How Much Does Height Matter To You?”

  1. HeyMommaCasey May 31, 2015 at 6:14 pm #

    People make too much out of height. My husband was shorter than me when we met in college and grew since then. Now we are the same height (5’11”). I don’t generally notice how tall people are. They’re either shorter or taller and it isn’t remarkable to me until someone else comments on the height. I wore flats when I got married because I run and didn’t want to risk injuring my feet or twisting an ankle. Ha!

  2. mullikki May 31, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

    I feel like a lot of women’s qualms with height stems from an insecurity about being out of the norm. On average men are larger than women, height-wise and other-wise. So maybe some women are just worried about standing out in a crowd if she is taller than her husband or just tall in general? I’m not pretending to understand the mindset, but it is interesting to ponder upon.

    • rahmasal February 23, 2017 at 7:40 pm #

      mullikki, I had something similar that was very painful. I fell in love with an amazing guy, took me a little while to approach him and make advances and when I finally did, he was not interested because he felt the height difference is too big. The thing is, I don’t see that as an issue, but he does. And he’s the type of a guy who is kinda brash, so he’d have no problem with being utterly honest with me. Never got over him completely and was sad when I saw him with another guy last year in the city, walking across the street, this guy was (eh…) shorter and just slightly taller than my ex-crush.
      Seriously, I don’t understand the mindset myself…

  3. The Voice June 1, 2015 at 1:03 am #

    I confess that I once dated a girl that was taller than me (I am 6’0″ and she was 6’2″) and I felt a bit uncomfortable. Other than that, height means little to me (no pun intended). I’ve dated short girls, tall girls, petite girls and heavy ones. I think the reason some people make height an issue is the same reason skin color is an issue or sexual orientation or whatever. If someone is noticeably different, our brains take note and for some, this is reason to treat them differently. It’s almost as though our minds are geared towards noticing that which separates us rather than that which brings us together.

    I have to wonder if the Earth were visited by intelligent extra-terrestrials that had a very alien morphology and biology, would we tend to notice the differences between other humans as much?

  4. enyamarie June 1, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    I’ve never heard of limb-lengthening before, is it a rare procedure?

    Some very interesting food for thought here by the way!
    Height plays a big part in a heterosexual female’s physical attraction to a man but I’d say it was more from social stigma attached to things like ‘little man syndrome’ and the traditional idea of masculine protection that brings this attraction rather than the prospect itself. It’s ingrained in almost every idyllic romance or handsome male character portrayed as far as I know.
    There is also a lot of social stigma attached to women being tall (ones that don’t look like glamorous supermodels that is).
    It makes you wonder just how long deeply embedded ideas about gender roles and traditional attractive values are going to stick around in an age of coming equality and what exactly will challenge these preconceptions in a major way to actually spark off a significant change in what attributes we associate height with.

  5. powerofthinkaboutit June 5, 2015 at 8:07 am #

    I am a very short person (4’11”) myself and height has played a very large part of my life. My height has made me a more confident and assertive person because I was raised to not differ myself from others due to my height. Having this confidence, nobody’s opinion on my height ever got to me, which is why I think I wasn’t bullied compared to some other people I knew.

    In relationships, new generations learn from what they see which is a male that is taller than a female. Without noticing it to be a large factor in dating, I think that we instinctively follow this pattern where the male should be taller than the female. Ultimately, I think the heart wants what it wants. If a women falls in love with a shorter man, I doubt that height will prevent them from marrying each other.

    • rahmasal February 23, 2017 at 7:46 pm #

      “Ultimately, I think the heart wants what it wants. If a women falls in love with a shorter man, I doubt that height will prevent them from marrying each other.”
      Exactly. And you get confounded when you see it happens in my (LGBT) community as well. If a guy’s my man, there’s a good reason why he’s my man. He does what it takes to push all the right buttons. I’m too busy focusing on everything that stands out as original, beautiful, passion-inspiring on a man to see him through lenses of such negative shades.

  6. anandkasthoorik June 5, 2015 at 8:36 am #

    Reblogged this on anandkasthoorik.

  7. Allu June 18, 2015 at 5:30 am #


  8. refuzetolive July 7, 2015 at 7:33 am #

    I definitely agree with you. Whatever height we are, we all have the right to be feel beautiful and be loved for what we have.

  9. Robert Lambert Jones III February 20, 2017 at 6:38 pm #

    Great post. Incidentally, my oldest daughter is a little taller than her husband, and it matters not.

  10. nishan18 February 24, 2017 at 1:34 am #

    Emily, nice job making a post that really affects many people. I have to agree that it’s pretty strange how we still judge others based on their height, but find it inappropriate to do so with many other things. In school I think it’s especially common to pick on the shorter kids. I see it all the time with upper class man talking about the lower class man. Perhaps it’s because we kind of grow up with the notion that being short is something negative and is looked down upon, similar to being overweight or too skinny. My parents are both very short with my mom only being 4 foot 11 inches, while I’m pretty average height. While people don’t annoy me about being short, it is annoying to hear people gasp in surprise when anyone learns of or see’s my parents. The mind set really should be stopped in the same way we teach it’s unfair to judge someone on there body size. This just adds to people’s insecurities.


  1. High Heels Are A Civil Rights Issue | Painting On Scars - February 26, 2017

    […] week there was much discussion on the blog about the social ramifications of height, but what about high heels? The Women and Equalities Committee of the U.K.’s House of Commons […]

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