I’m relatively tall. Relatively. Not the tallest in my class at school, but tall enough that I caused jaws to (literally) drop while once visiting China. Or maybe it was the freckles. No, it was definitely the height. The locals would kindly shout at me in English that I was ‘very, very tall’ and even call out unprovoked height estimates; “You are soo tall. You are approximately 180 centimetres tall”. I’m actually around the 183cm mark lads, but lets not get bogged down in the detail. Here to entertain – line up for the freak show.
I recently met a blogging pal of mine for dinner in Galway. She happens to be slightly taller than I – something we had never previously discussed or commented upon. When you’re a tad taller you’re often hit with the conversation killing observation “Hey – you’re tall” from others, so we tend to avoid it amongst ourselves – we settle more for silent acknowledgement. A mental, secret, solidarity handshake that nods towards the tall gal’s struggle.
And a struggle it can sometimes be, something I’ve occasionally discussed with other tall ladies (from time to time, we do have a life) – friends, acquaintances, my sisters alike. There are practical aspects – trousers with legs long enough, all-in-one swimming togs with bodies long enough, jackets with sleeves long enough – all very tricky to find (I take 36″ length jeans, so crop trousers are my friend). In school shows you were made to play the man’s part and in photographs you’re always put at the back. Growing up you’re subjected to comments such as ‘You’re HUGE’ (technically I’m just tall) and ‘Will you ever stop growing?’ and ‘What are they feeding you?’. When you hang around with other tall girls it is presumed ye must be sisters, working as Gardaí who are all good at playing basketball.
On through life and a single tall girl is automatically being matched to every taller lad in the country – “I went out on a date last night” – “OOOOH! Exciting! Is he tall?” (God forbid you be taller than a really nice guy you might have a fair bit of chemistry with and a lot in common with) – “Yes, he’s tall. A total a**hole, but he’s tall”. They’re satisfied – he can be an awful eejit, but not shorter than you. Another curiosity is the guy who takes personal offence to your height. I was casually introduced to one such specimen by common friends some time back in Tralee. I can still see him (looking up and) mansplaining to me I couldn’t possibly be 6′ tall as he was 6′ 1″. I was wearing flat shoes. I had no answers. I could see from my vantage point that he was slightly balding on top – was this causing him to be a little less body-confident than he’d like and he was taking it out on me? I’m being facetious, and this encounter would be funny only he was so, very angry. Friends helpfully diffused the situation…
This, of course, is all relatively harmless stuff. Many times, at its worst, it’s the repetition of having to jovially respond to random person’s new and insightful (not) comments which just becomes a tad boring. That, I think we can all agree, is bearable.
But there’s a darker side. There’s an aspect of body-shaming and unconscious “normal” body- bias going on.
A tall man, I’m assuming, won’t identify with much of this blog post. If you’re a guy, being tall is a positive attribute – in fact it’s the shorter guys that get the comments. We live in a size-biased world, where ‘fitting in’, in every meaning of that phrase, is deemed to be extremely important. So tall women often get comments when they deign to wear high heel shoes, get approached by complete strangers in night clubs eager to discuss how gigantic they are and – particularly during the teenage years – can be made to feel like their bodies don’t fit as they should.
Of course many comments come from a place of pure small-talk, of complete absent-mindedness, and are often meant to compliment. But that’s the problem with body-talk and, particularly, teenagers. Negative quips become ingrained and unless you have a whole pile of body confidence, it becomes difficult to accept your own body when others insist on constantly pointing out its ‘other-ness’.
Here I am being all tall with a ‘tidy’ bump. Size talk is so YAWN!
I’ve found myself experiencing similar ‘size-talk’ now, as I near the end of my third pregnancy. People kindly comment that I’m very tidy, hardly showing for 7 months, 8 months, 9 months etc. Unbeknownst to most casual commenters, this is not something I don’t worry about. I’ve been officially measuring small from about thirty weeks, as I did with my previous babies and, just like the other two, this one has finally pulled into line and is much closer to the ‘average size’ mark on the graph, which everyone likes better, so I’m finding it slightly easier to fend off the threats of induction and offers of sweeps our maternal health care system loves to dole out. Once born, and fingers crossed, my currently 44th-percentile baby will be graphed routinely as officialdom maps their weight and height comparing them to the rest of the population, to norms and abnorms.
And while it’s important to track the physical development of small people – and, of course, particularly babies developing in the womb – norms, averages and statistics are not and should not become the whole picture. Why not take my personal body-type and how I (obviously) tend to carry my pregnancies into account? Why not pay closer attention to how my previous babies developed? Why depend solely on size averages to assess how a pregnancy is progressing? Just a thought. But we live in a world where size and size norms matter more than they should. Size is never the entire picture.
Being tall is just one aspect of my physical being, and while there are other aspects of my body I’m not all that comfortable with, being tall isn’t actually one of them. I think I’ve mentioned before I have a naive way of receiving most comments as compliments and height comes with many, many advantages – good views at concerts, easy to spot friends when out and about, full use of high cupboard storage space etc. I’m just not immune to the possible negative impact tall-girl-talk can have.
A few years ago, on a day in a job I knew I was being made redundant I wore my smartest clothes and highest heels into work. Yes folks, I officially ‘power-dressed’. There’s always been a part of me that has believed it’s less acceptable to be a tall woman than a tall man because being tall brings with it an element of power, of physical prowess, something the female sex are encouraged to shy away from – after all, power isn’t feminine, isn’t an attractive attribute…
Sometimes, and especially when you’ve just lost your job, you need to feel in control and to hang on to what bit of power you do have. So on that day I wore my body and height with 100% pride. It was all I could do. Don’t mess with this tall chick.
This blog post has appeared on: selfishmother.com