To say that height is unimportant in our image-obsessed society would be an incredibly tone-deaf statement. You only have to take a quick look at a fashion runway or a billboard, and you will see that tall, muscly men and the slender women on their arms are set as the ultimate aesthetic goals. Commercial fashion models are often a great indicator of what society wants us to look like, so the fact that the average height of a male model is 5’11 speaks volumes. To surmise, to be tall is to be masculine and sexy and to be short, is to not be a ‘real man’. While height may seem like a trivial issue to some, the expectation of men to be tall and strong has undoubtedly had an effect on my life experiences growing up.
I do not remember the first time I realised that I was short. However, I do remember the numerous times I’ve being reminded about my small stature throughout my life, both humorously and maliciously. There have been plenty of instances where people have drawn attention to my height, as if it somehow defines me or determines certain capabilities (other than inhibiting my career as a male model.) Of course, there were some positives to growing up short. I could always fit into the best spots when playing hide and seek, adults assumed that I was well-behaved and innocent and I managed to get away without having an Oyster card two years longer than the rest of my friends. However, the downsides of being a short boy were unsurprisingly pretty significant.
the downsides of being a short boy were unsurprisingly pretty significant
For me personally, I was most aware of my height while growing up, especially in school. Children are known for their propensity to be cruel and I was definitely on the receiving end of teasing about my height during my school years. Thankfully, this never escalated to bullying, but the same cannot be said for other children whose height is different to most. It is also worrying that a number of adults contributed to this labelling of me as abnormally short, whether intentionally or not. Naturally, I always had to sit on the floor in school photos and I was often mistaken as been in one of the younger years.
Some instances, however, were a little harder to stomach. I will never forget when I stood up to ask my teacher a question in Year 7 and she laughed, ‘wow, I’ve never realised how short you are’. Another teacher once referred to me in front of our entire class as the truly cringe-worthy ‘vertically challenged’. Of course, I do not mean to compare this to the experiences of severely bullied children, but to say that those words were not damaging and did not have any effect on me, would be a lie. When I was younger, I often included a plea to be taller in my night-time prayers and I remember researching surgeries that claimed to make you taller online.
Looking back, this all seems a touch dramatic. Yet, at such a young and impressionable age, I was very conscious of my height and saw it as hindering my ability to be ‘cool’, attractive, or masculine. As I have gotten older, my height started to matter less to me and when I left school and started university, it definitely fell to the back of my mind.
However, on occasion I do realise that I’m surrounded by strapping sports players and it can be easy to think of myself as the ‘other’. While I am not particularly bothered about living up to any of those toxic male stereotypes we have forced upon us, I know that my height does and will affect some people’s perception of me. When I go to job interviews, the first thing prospective employers will notice about me is my height. While they will not necessarily see my height as indicative of my employability, the simple fact is, there are still plenty of people out there who think that being a short man means I cannot be assertive, or an authority figure.
Even worse is the stereotype that any shorter man that shows leadership or is in a position of authority, is suffering from the elusive ‘short-man syndrome’. Just like women’s moods are not dictated by their periods, my desire to be successful or to use the skills I have to lead a team, is not me trying to compensate for my lack of height.
my desire to be successful is not me trying to compensate for my lack of height
I am yet to see how my height will be interpreted in the workplace, but thankfully, it appears as I get older, to be less of an issue. While I will inevitably have to deal with Ellesse-clad guys in clubs who think they can laugh at my stature and people patronisingly bending down when posing for photos with me, I no longer fear that height will determine my success in life. The hard truth is that aesthetics are very important in our current society.
However, there is a slow growing resistance to this, which should be celebrated. In November, Maria Borges became the first black model to wear her natural hair on the Victoria’s Secret runway and this month, Jaden Smith was announced as the new face of Louis Vuitton womenswear. It is clear that attitudes towards appearance are slowly but surely changing and hopefully presumptions about height will form a part of this change. The long and the short of it is that my height does not define me and nor should it define anyone else. Who knows, maybe I will end up on the runway after all…
Read the other side of the Heightism story in part one of the Heightism series.