The Plight of a Tall Girl

I spent Friday night at my aunt and uncle’s house in upstate New York. After dinner, they pulled their video camera out of the living room cabinet and showed humiliating footage of my cousins and me dancing to the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” soundtrack in 1996. Though I expected to be more embarrassed by my complete lack of rhythm at age seven, I was more self-conscious about my height, long pasty white legs, and toned arms. Even back then, I towered over the other girls and wore a skirt that was three sizes too small. My aunt, who provided me with the costume, said it was the biggest skirt in her closet.

Nicole Kidman and her short husband, Keith Urban

“We didn’t have anything larger than that. You were the tallest girl we’d ever seen,” she said.

I was never meant to spiderific, either. The pediatrician predicted I’d be five foot two at my tallest, but I’m actually 5”8, and I’m convinced it’s partly due to all the milk my father made me drink growing up. According to completely unhelpful family members, I continue to grow, although I’m not sure how this is possible. Every time they see me, they often say, “You got taller,” as if this is supposed to make me happy or proud.

As I wrote in a blog post over the weekend, the life of a tall female is no piece of cake. More often than not, you’re taller or the same height as the men you like. This has happened to me several times since graduating high school, and I’ve found myself slouching or putting on flats just to be on the same level as these fellows. Though you never in your wildest dreams anticipated envying Kim Kardashian, you curse her for being tiny beside her significant other Kris Humphries (back when they were still a thing, of course). You’re also larger than many of your coworkers and bosses, and this could lead to awkward power dynamics at the office. You struggle to find pantlegs that fall below your ankles. High heels, which some would say are the key to female career success, turn you into a giant. Amy Smilovic, the founder of fashion brand Tibi, recently said, “When women are in flats, and they say, ‘I’m comfortable,’ I say they need to man up and put on a pair of 4-inch heels, nothing gives you more respect.” How comfortable would you be, Ms. Smilovic, if a pair of four-inch heels put you at 6”2? Height may seem like a dominating attribute, but it can actually be quite off-putting. I’d love nothing more than to don heels everyday, but because I don’t want to be the tallest person in the room, I opt for flats or boots that don’t accentuate my height.

There are countless more downsides to being tall. Last year, British medical journal The Lancet found that tall women are at a greater risk of developing cancer. Research has shown that while tall men have greater reproductive success than their shorter counterparts, women below the average height for females experience maximum reproductive success for their gender. In other words, tall men and short women are evolutionarily superior. No wonder Kris and Kim ever became an item. Adolescent girls who dislike their height are reportedly twice as likely as the rest of the population to suffer from depression. We eat more, which can increase a growth hormone that encourages cell replication. It’s rare that we find shoes in our size. We also can’t blend into the crowd during times of need or when we desire privacy. As self-proclaimed tall girl Elaine Dove noted last year, “Tall women are seen whether we want to be or not, and we know it. We catch each others’ eyes over the racks in the Juniors department of Macy’s, smile wryly, and turn back toward the motley selection of dresses that we already know are all too short. And maybe, just maybe, one of us whispers to the other in the dressing room, “There’s some stuff in our size on the sale rack. In the back.”

Then again, it’s up to tall girls to accept the hand they’ve been dealt and not allow their height to dictate their lives. There are also some positive aspects of height. In 2009, a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that men and women with above average height — 5 ft. 10 in. for men, 5 ft. 4 in. for women — report higher levels of happiness than their shorter counterparts. This is somewhat difficult to believe, but on the other hand, vertically challenged folks have a slew of stereotypes to fight 24/7, so I can imagine they’d like to stand a little taller. Tall people also tend to earn more in the workplace and demonstrate impressive leadership skills. In 2009, a tribal leader in Sudan lauded tall females for their versatility and said they bring a lot more to the table than short ladies: “Tall girls fetch more cattle because their daughters will quickly grow and can be married off to fetch even more cattle. A tall girl can command 60 to 100 cattle from a suitor. A short girl may get 20 head, and, sometimes, short girls overstay their welcome in the father’s home and end up fetching only five cattle. By then, a tall girl has already borne five children.” Well, then. I guess I’d fare well in Africa!

Australian actress Nicole Kidman, who is 5”11, has famously gone for shorter guys. She married Tom Cruise and Keith Urban, both of whom are dwarfed by her, and shrugged off the tabloid jabs about their differing heights. She’s a much more secure woman than I, as this sort of thing remains a contributing factor in my dating decisions, so I could learn a lot from this fellow redhead. Maybe someday I’ll become less shallow and more confident about my genetic makeup, but until then, height is kind of a dealbreaker for me when it comes to romance and makes me uneasy in business situations.

Tell me, friends, how has height affected your life? And would you be comfortable dating someone over whom you tower?

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6 thoughts on “The Plight of a Tall Girl

  1. At 5’7″, I’m of squarely average height, but I do have the experience of being a bit taller than my man in my stocking feet. And I have to say, while it’s not necessarily ideal, I love having an excuse not to wear massively uncomfortable heels to formal events. I’m happy in flats, and happy with my own height and his. I actually think paying too much attention to the expectation that women date men who are taller than them perpetuates some outdated ideas about masculinity and strength, and as a woman who hates having others’ ideals of womanhood imposed on her, I’m the last person to want to do that to men.

  2. Absolutely LOVE this. As someone who is 5’9, I definitely agreed with all things in this article. Although sometimes I really appreciate the benefits of being tall (and as you show us, they are definitely there!), it can be so difficult to tower above the rest. I really wish that I could wear the fun wedges and sexy heels that my 5’5 roommates both don at all times when we barhop, but if I do, I tower abover everyone in sight! And unfortunatley, I just don’t think I’m as brave as Nicole Kidman … I want to date a guy who is taller, even if that keeps me in flats my whole life.
    Great job, Laura! 🙂

  3. Anyone else feel like preferring a tall or a short guy is a lose-lose scenario? If you say you like a guy who is taller, you’re an antiquated Victorian lady who perpetuates anti-feminist stereotypes. If you say you like shorter guys, you’re a weirdo for going against classic expectations of women, and maybe you’re only saying that so short guys will like you and think, “Hey! She’s different than all those other towering Amazons.” Plus there’s the issue of whether wearing heels is a powerful choice, or if it’s tantamount to foot-binding, or if it emasculates your shorter date. Being a lady is such a kick.

    • I guess I think “preferring” a type of guy in general is problematic, although I know that everyone is attracted to certain characteristics in spite of themselves (give me a beard or give me singlehood). Seeking a man out expressly because he’s short or tall seems, as you said, either Victorian or deliberately contrarian, so to me it makes more sense to find someone you’re otherwise attracted to and compatible with and maybe worry a little less whether you’re taller than he is. I think for many men, masculinity is as fraught as femininity is for us (the thinking ones, anyway) so imposing these standards of tallness-as-attractiveness and worse, tallness-as-virility-and-suitable-matehood, seems like something worth attempting to avoid. But then again, I may just be thinking of my rather short boyfriend, and how stupid it would have been in our particular case not to love him because he doesn’t tower over me.

      As for heels, I think that’s just a personal preference. If I loved heels and felt powerful in them, I don’t think I’d mind being a couple of inches taller than a man in them; I happen to find them really uncomfortable (though they do make calves and thighs look killer).

      • Hi all,

        Thank you for engaging in this debate! Heather, I think it’s great that you don’t limit yourself based on your north of average height. I definitely do and have surely missed out on some great relationships as a result. Though I’d like to adopt a different mentality, I’m simply not there yet, but I do realize that height shouldn’t really matter when it comes to romance.

  4. Pingback: What’s My Dealbreaker? Having Dealbreakers | Serving Tea To Friends

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