Shapelings might be interested in this NYT piece called “Life as a Tall Girl,” about having a female body that is considered unacceptably big on the vertical axis. It’s written by a college student, and some of it, I imagine, will sound familiar to many of us:
Everywhere I go people stare at me. At the grocery store children gawk at me wide-eyed, craning their necks and pointing as they tug their mothers’ shirts. When I pass people on the street, I hear them mumble comments about my appearance.
I was 5-foot-10 in fourth grade. I had a small group of friends in elementary school, but sometimes the boys picked on me, calling me a bean pole or the Jolly Green Giant. I still remember my embarrassment when they taunted me, and how badly I wanted to be invisible.
In high school I got more involved in sports, but I spent most days in the art room. By this time everyone at my school was used to my height (by ninth grade I was 6-foot-3), but if I went out of town people would gawk and comment about my appearance. They acted like I couldn’t hear them.
The author, Rebecca Thomas, sounds like she has come out the other side of the constant public comment on her body and learned to take pride in herself and smartly deflect strangers’ insults.
What are your experiences with height? Personally, I’m about 5′ 7″ , which has never made me particularly short or tall, but my sense of my own height did shift drastically once in my adult life: when I graduated from a women’s college and started grad school at a coed public university. Instantly I went from being on the tall side wherever I went to being in the middle of the height range, which disconcerted me greatly at the time — not because I felt emotionally invested in my height in any particular way, but because I had had a sense of my own body that I had to revise very suddenly. There’s nothing like walking behind a group of basketball players to make an average-height person feel very short. I remember feeling much more vulnerable when I was adjusting to no longer being a “tall” person.
One final note on this article, since we’ve been talking about intersectionality and language — when I read this article, this paragraph made me wince:
I am not deformed or handicapped, I’m not a circus attraction. I have strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes. What makes me different is that I’m 6-foot-4, and I’m a woman.
I don’t think Thomas means any insult to people who have unusual features, are disabled, or are non-white (or even non-blonde and blue-eyed). In fact, later in the article she explicitly acknowledges how different kinds of privilege intersect with her height: “And I’ve got it easy; I’m a minority only in the sense of height. I can only imagine how those under the burden of a group prejudice based on their race or religion must feel.” But notice how the implicit assumption behind this paragraph is that if she were “deformed,” “handicapped,” or non-blonde, it would be understandable to stare at her, because she’d be like “a circus attraction.” Again, I’m not saying that Thomas explicitly holds those views; I’m just pointing out how privilege seeps into language and informs our sense of what is acceptable to say. Some people might read that paragraph and not blink. I can’t; I grew up with a brother who is “deformed” and “handicapped,” and people do often treat him like a circus freak. As long as some bodies are considered acceptable for public comment and ridicule, we all suffer. We all are vulnerable. That’s yet another reason why members of every social justice movement must reach outside their own interests and try to find a discourse that includes others.