The other day a friend apologised after calling me short. Before, I would accept the apology without really thinking about it. However, this time I wanted to highlight the stigma of being short.
Why did he feel like he had offended me by calling me short? It's not insulting, it's just the truth; I'm 5 feet 1 inch, have been this height since the early stages of puberty, and expect to remain this height until I start shrinking with age.
Height, as we were growing up, was an undeclared sign of maturity. If you could look an adult in the eye, it meant that you were mentally on the same level as them. Lining up for class photos became increasingly more embarrassing as the years went on and the height disparity between myself and everyone else became more pronounced. It was especially traumatising when the late-blooming boys finally hit puberty and height kicked in, and they would jump straight from the bottom bench of class photos to the top row.
As everyone else shot up like sky scrapers (how unnatural, am I right?!), I became 'cute'. My cheeks were apparently made for squeezing and my hair, which I brushed every morning with the intention of it staying neat for the rest of the day, existed to be ruffled up. I wasn't taken seriously 99% of the time and whenever I was in a bad mood most people thought I was being adorable. I'm sure my friends meant to be endearing, but I mostly saw it as patronizing.
By apologising for calling me short, my friend effectively made it a negative thing. Undeniably, shortness is a physical disadvantage: being unable to reach the upper shelves in supermarkets, having your view blocked in concerts/cinemas/pubs, getting carded for buying paracetamol (this has happened to myself and another friend who's in her mid-20s).
But think of all the advantages! Leg room is never a problem (who needs to splurge on first class when you can curl up comfortably in your economy seat?), umbrellas never threaten to gouge your eyeballs out, your feet never dangle off the end of the bed... the list goes on.
It was and still is a conversation topic on too many occasions, to the point where I often feel self-conscious about my height. On the rugby pitch when I'm holding the tackle pad lower than other people (which is better, might I add, for encouraging the tackler to get into a lower body position for maximum impact), when a friend rests their elbow on my head like an armrest, on the escalators when I'm still significantly shorter despite being a step or two above. It's a source of conversation with people I just meet, like it's the most interesting thing we can possibly talk about: "Hey, you're short... how short exactly are you?" I'm short! Get over it! You might be wider than me but I won't ask for your hip measurements - it's weird and it won't enrich either of us in any way!
Sure, it'll break the ice and sometimes does lead to interesting conversations, but by making it a big deal contributes to self-consciousness and even feelings of inadequacy. Who wants to be reminded that they're vertically inferior?
You can say that it's all in my head, but even in the 'real world', research shows that above average people (5 ft 10 in. for men, 5 ft 4 in. for women) tend to enjoy higher income levels than shorter people. You'll find that most CEOs in large corporations are taller than average, and it's proven that we prefer tall politicians. Even in the White House Cabinet Room, the president's chair is two inches taller than everyone else's, a psychological trick to emphasise their importance.
As Malcolm Gladwell documents in his book Blink, we subconsciously have an image of what people in leadership positions look like, and being tall is just one of the main traits. It roots back to Darwin's 'survival of the fittest' model in evolutionary theory, and is still an active mentality in present day psyche.
I understand that people don't usually knowingly discriminate on grounds of height, but height is just one of the many ways in which our prejudices are formed. It's creating unnecessary barriers for vertically challenged people who have just as much potential as normal-to-above-average height people. It's not the most vital problem out there, but it is a problem nonetheless.
So here are a few solutions for taking a step towards getting rid of the stigma of being short:
a) If you're short, don't accept apologies when being called short. You're born to be short, there's nothing you can do about it, it's who you are. Own it and be proud of it.
b) If you're not short, don't make height a big deal with shorter people. Unless you're communicating with a visually impaired person, or unless you have something interesting to divulge, we can all see how tall each other is. There are better things to talk about.
c) Never let yourself think you can't do something because of your height. Surprise yourself and the people around you.
I'm only starting to come to terms with my height, and I'm still bummed out when people can't hear me all the way down here (especially in noisy places). But I guess some things can't be helped.
Upon reflection, perhaps being short has made me 'who I am' (massive apologies for the cheesiness). It made me determined to prove myself both physically and intellectually from a young age, and I hope those who haven't yet accepted that being short is a-okay will eventually see the light in the situation.
* Important note: Obviously, not all short people feel this way, and obviously I am only 'below average' and there are shorter people around.
Follow Vicky Chan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vicky_ch4n