One of my oldest friends is highly intelligent, accomplished, beautiful, and 6’0” tall.
Ever since she was a taller-than-average teenager, she has gotten the usual comments: “You’re a tall drink of water!” “How’s the weather up there?” and “You must play basketball!” Complete strangers, in all settings and contexts, find it perfectly acceptable to comment on her height.
Of course, Google “height discrimination,” and the vast majority of websites, articles, and blogs address the trials and tribulations of being short. In fact, most of the focus from media on tallness is on its perks. In a 2015 Atlantic Monthly article, “The Financial Perks of Being Tall,” writer Joe Pinsker points out that in Western countries, a jump from the 25th percentile of height to the 75th—about four or five inches—is associated with an increase in salary between 9 and 15 percent. Another analysis suggests that an extra inch is worth almost $800 a year in elevated earnings. Tallness is a valued trait in our culture.
In high school, I always felt (at a mere 5’5”) a bit short and stubby next to Anne. She was willowy, regal, floating above the rest of us. Struggling with body image (as most teenagers do), I was always very envious of her height. It never occurred to me that she ever tired of having what sets her apart commented on so freely, and so frequently.
My husband gets it. In 1973, he was not just prone to sunburn, he was 1) the son of liberal parents in the southern U.S., and one of fewer than 50 white students at his integrated junior high school, and, in 1982, 2) a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya. The kinds of questions he got, on a regular basis, from strangers in both those settings? “Is that your real hair?” and “Does everything look blue through your blue eyes?”
Now, all these years later, Anne has three teenage daughters with her husband . . . who is 6’5”. And, yes, you guessed it, these are three taller-than-average girls. Her oldest, 16, is 6’0”. Her youngest, 12, is (so far) a “diminutive” 5’7”. And her middle daughter, at just 15, is 6’2.5”.
Suffice to say: when this family walks into a restaurant, people notice.
“The most difficult experience we deal with is the shock and awe factor,” Anne says. “People seem stunned, at times. It seems unwarranted when you think of vast variety of shapes and sizes of people everywhere.”
“As often as once a week someone says, ‘You’re so tall!’ or, even, ‘Why are you so tall?’” Anne says.
And hearing that height is counted as a commodity by popular media is only modestly comforting. Being called out on a regular basis for your difference, Anne says, is mostly just annoying, and sometimes downright insulting. When she shared with a friend that her oldest daughter was dating a really nice boy who happens to be 6’10, her friend said, aghast, “Oh, don’t let them get married and have children!”
My husband says that while both of his experiences of being so markedly different, of standing out so much, were mostly positive in the end, “Life in a fishbowl can by trying sometimes.”
Fortunately, Anne’s daughters seem to find more benefits than deficits to being the tallest young women in the room. “My girls love their height,” Anne says. “Because they get a positive reaction? Because I have always told them to love it? Because of all the advantages? Maybe all those reasons, maybe none of them. You can choose your perspective in life, even if you can’t choose your height.”
“And the view is pretty great from up here!” she laughs.