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August 30, 2009

I do not remember being harassed for being overweight, except by my next door neighbor who managed the insult “thunder thighs,” which I don’t recall being very hurt by. I do not remember being harassed for being tall, only the constant, irritating twittering of “Whoa, you’re tall!,” which would occasionally dawn on someone when standing next to me. I don’t remember ever feeling particularly badly about either Serious Bodily Affront to the Public (maybe because I have awesome parents), with a couple exceptions: I was a big theater nerd and felt shut out of some roles (and pigeonholed into others) because of what my body looked like (then again, who wasn’t?), and I didn’t feel comfortable being attracted to a man who was shorter than me.

Almost every boy I have ever crushed on caught my attention because of his height. That’s not to say these guys didn’t also have fantastic personal qualities, they did, I just learned about those later. It was partly because I thought shorter men made me look gigantic, and partly because shorter men made me look down on them. Next to a shorter man, I didn’t feel feminine. I felt big, aggressive, and intimidating. Big may be accurate, but in terms of my typical personality, the others are not.

It turns out I’m not alone. (h/t David) Ann at Feministing, another tall girl, reviews The Tall Book by Arianne Cohen, citing a surprising finding:
“A study of 720 American couples… showed that only one couple featured a taller woman.”

I am lucky; before college, I was generally happy with my body, not terribly self-conscious about my height or weight. I still fell into this assumption, that men are big and women are small and I ought to do everything possible to fit my giant body into that strange box. Maybe it’s telling that when I got to Carleton, where my mind didn’t stand out anymore, and I felt spotlights on a body that suddenly did, absent the forest of like-sized Scandinavians I had grown up in, I was even more self-conscious about being near short men.

I’ve gotten over that, kind of. My boyfriend of nearly two years is a few inches shorter than me, and though I still catch myself slouching in his presence from time to time, I’m calling myself on the feeling that I’m attacking him merely by being in his presence. Him and all men.

It’s important to remember that these molds we try to make ourselves in are harmful to us, that many of us cannot and should not be as small as our culture wants us to be. It’s important to address how these demands make us think of ourselves, and make others think of us. But it’s just as important to remember that gender norms and beauty norms and social norms of all stripes (even the ones mostly about ourselves!) can damage how we think of others as well. I do not believe that romantic ethics demand that we date people we are not attracted to, or people who make us feel uncomfortable with our bodies or our identities. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question our attractions, not at all.

I know I’ve treated men unkindly because of my hangups about my height; I know I’ve treated myself unkindly, too. Reflecting on this has reminded me that our bodies are political spaces, sites of oppression, but also sites of resistance, challenge, and deliverance, and one of the best resources we have to fight our way out of those little boxes.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. piecesofstring permalink
    August 30, 2009 4:09 PM

    Almost every boy I have ever crushed on caught my attention because of his height.

    Yep, same here. Often I would crush on a tall guy and FORCE myself to find redeeming qualities in him. Now I have a girlfriend who is four or five inches shorter than me (6′), so things have changed a bit 🙂

    Great post, I’m so stoked on all the focus on tall women lately!

  2. Norma permalink
    September 5, 2009 12:29 AM

    Thanks for the post, Jill! I really enjoyed this.

    I’ve been reading up on some blogs that note the intersectionality of the pressure on women to be “small” in our culture, be it socially or physically– For example, if you sit “like a lady”, you are encouraged to sit with legs together and your hands in your lap, diminishing your size and significance, whereas men are taught to sprawl out and take up as much space as possible. Culturally ingrained ideas of how the sexes “should” look or act screw over both men and women.

    There’s a really nifty Feministing article on this idea, “Taking up Space”:

  3. Becky permalink
    September 5, 2009 7:41 AM

    Thanks for this post, Jill!

    I have also always related really strongly to my height. Ever since 6th grade, when everyone started growing past me, I’ve been short, noticeably so. Just last week I was in an elevator with a bunch of men and one of them looked down at me and said, “How’s it going down there?”.

    I have mixed feelings about this attention to my height. I know that I (sometimes actively) reap the benefits when flirting and there is an ease to being non-threatening as a woman. But sometimes I want to be intimidating. Sometimes I don’t want to right away be put in the category of “small”, or have someone lean their elbow on my shoulder and make me feel like the loudness of my voice and the power in my words should mirror my short stature. It’s weird, but I often get this idea that people view me as one of those really tiny dogs yipping with all its might at a big dog who just has to growl to send the little dog running. And I’d really prefer my anger to not be funny.

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