Is life kinder to short girls?

Short little girls

Short little girls Photo: Catherine Ledner

I was raised in a family whose females were short in stature and big in personality. My grandmother was not even five feet tall; her slippers were almost doll-like. My mother was slightly taller and my sister had another inch on her. I was the "tall girl" who eventually just made average – 5'4" or 162cm.

My sister was nicknamed "Big Mac" and I, at some stage, was "Monkey", but we didn't care. In fact, we actually loved being small. I almost mourned getting bigger – stooping as a teenager and later developing scoliosis.

I relished being little because I stood in the front of lines, got in the first row of school photos, played centre in netball and was suited to gymnastics. Later on, I found it easier to push to the front at concerts and skip along queues without being noticed. I liked being held in the arms of others, or sitting on their shoulders.

It seemed to me that for girls, being small was cool. I like to think I never played the "cute card" – I was actively discouraged from putting on a babyish voice. Yet I wonder now if my enjoyment of being little was actually an infantalising of myself.

Perhaps I enjoyed the safety of being small; the security of being non-threatening, non-powerful, of needing protection and not looming too large in life.

I have a good friend who is small but never saw herself as being so; she was raised to believe she was big. However, she now has a tiny daughter who goes to a country school were everyone, from the school principal down, calls her "Shorty". She is "Shorty" in class, at assembly, in the playground and in town.

My mate, her mother, is big on anger and frustration; she worries her daughter is being teased, bullied and belittled. Her husband is also appalled but the school has ignored their pleas to stop. The child wears her nickname like a badge of honour – she feels valued in her community as she is recognised and identified. She has learnt over the years that if she does act "cute" and use a sweet little voice she gets attention and adoration.

As a former "Shorty" I understand both the child's need to be cherished and her parents' unease. While "Shorty" might be a point of pride in lower primary school, it's not a persona you want for life. It would be cruel and unfair if her nickname becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – an excuse to stay small and adored and not stand tall in life. While her cuteness gives her a certain power, it's not the power you'd wish on a girl as she becomes a woman.

Of course, it's worse for small boys. And men. Australian and international studies have shown tall men earn more, get promoted further and are less likely to be unemployed. One even found that with every inch, there is a gain of about $1000 a year. Researchers hypothesise that height creates a belief in competency and authority, power and intelligence.

The influence of height is far more pronounced for men than women. Girls can use it to their advantage, but only for a while – as they get older the advantage becomes a disadvantage.

For a start, some female-centred research is showing taller women are also starting to do better in more careers than the catwalk. As women enter the real world, being small no longer works for them. Except perhaps in music – I find the current trend for cute, little girl voices (such as that of Katie Dunstan who was recently knocked out of The Voice) intensely irritating. While I appreciate they may be trying to be alternative and avoid being over-sexualised they seem to swallow their own strength to be non-threatening and likeable.

As small women age, they realise further disadvantages – my mother often finds it hard to get served at counters and literally gets stepped on. The invisibility of older women is exacerbated when they are tiny.

Now, as my mother shrinks in society, we are watching my daughter grow like a weed. At ten she's nearly as tall as my mum and wears a shoe size larger than mine. (As I write she's clomping around the house in my high heel boots). If girls are like dogs and foot size signifies future growth, she'll end up much taller than me.

One of her best friends is small and they love to dress up in identical clothes to pretend to be identical sisters, but they look more like the Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito version of twins.

She doesn't like being the big twin. When people exclaim how tall my child is, she literally shrinks in front of them. She's even acquiring a lisp to compensate. It appears she knows that smaller girls are sweeter and cuter and more adorable.

So, in contrast to my friend who worries about "Shorty", I find myself concerned about my tall girl. I've put her into netball where her height is an advantage. I encourage her to stand tall, to put her shoulders back, to be big and bold and beautiful (without the blow dry bouffant hair-do).

Our children are supersized in more ways than weight. We are breeding a generation of Amazons who will be taller than our generation, so we need to convince our towering girls to love their height, to use it to make themselves stand out, to be commanding, to look strong and to assert their power. That it will help them in life.

We need to embrace the power of tall and the power of small and kick the cute, small-minded nicknames back to where they belong. In the past.

30 comments

  • Good on you Sarah for working at making your daughter feel good about being tall.

    I was always the tallest girl in my class, from kindergarten onwards. I hit 6'1" (187cm) when I was 15, and hated being tall for many years. I've gone through life constantly being asked if I play basketball (no, I never have), and also being asked for assistance in reaching items down from high shelves in the supermarket (which is cool).

    For most of my life, women have told me that they're jealous of my height, and that I should be a model.

    On the other hand, I've been called a transvestite on more than one occasion (always by shorter men, and usually behind my back), and, when I've had short hair, I've been confronted on at least a dozen occasions by women who are angry about me entering the women's toilets (I have regular-sized breasts, and have been told countless time by those who love me that I don't really look like a man at all to anyone who's paying attention).

    I believe that my height has been a factor in being passed over for promotion by bosses with "short man syndrome". That really hurts, especially when they make flimsy and patently unfair excuses - because of course no one would be stupid enough to openly deny a woman a promotion because she's six inches taller than them.

    But one of the best things about being an unusually tall woman is that we tend to attract men who are kind, generous, and very self-confident.

    Commenter
    Amazon Forrest
    Location
    wild wild west
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 9:51AM
    • "Oh my god you're tall! You must play basketball!"

      "No."

      Actually I did rowing which makes far better use of tall bodies and long arms and legs anyway.

      I find that tall men are either kind, generous and self-confident, or they're egocentric idiots who are accustomed to getting by purely on their physique. Mostly the former, though I've run into a few of the latter.

      Commenter
      xabie
      Location
      the amazon
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 10:03AM
    • @ xabie: Amazon Forrest is not actually saying that tall men are kind, generous and self-confident, but that tall women attract kind, generous and self-confident men. Those men themselves can be of any height.

      Commenter
      artefact
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 10:53AM
    • tall women are soooo sexy and to clarify i don't mean models.

      i suppose i don't have a particular height just women who are taller than the average, my partner is about 175cm and her height is probably what attracted me to her in the first place. :)

      Commenter
      markymark
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 12:03PM
    • Yes like attracts like .Ilove the Japanes philosophy of yin and yan whereby big yan attracts little yan or big yin attracts little yin,you know yin and yan being like masculine and feminine,and they dont mean sexually necessarily.

      Commenter
      Kane
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 12:38PM
    • @artefact: agree - you could equally say that confident, kind and generous short men have no difficulty attracting partners. I know a couple - one is shorter that me (and that's short at 160cm) and has amazing confidence and presence and from what I hear has never been short of a partner and is now married with kids. Still not 30.

      Commenter
      bornagirl
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 3:01PM
  • I've been 6'0" (and a little bit) since I was about 15 and ohhhhhhh my gosh it was hard during school. Always at the back of the line, in the boys row in school photos. I used to be teased by the boys for having to "sit like a man" because my legs didn't fit underneath the desk well enough for me to cross them like a lady. Luckily I have good posture as my (also 6-foot tall) mother made me do ballet for 10 years, or the shame of my height in high school would have given me the classic tall-girl stoop.

    Now I'm 25, and yes, height brings advantages such as fresh air in mosh pits, reaching things in high places, and being able to gain or lose a few kilos without it really showing up on my body. But you trade in being able to blend into a crowd, being unnoticable (and believe me, there a times when I have never wanted anything more.) .......not having to lean down slightly to talk to people. I find that people who don't know me end to automatically assume I'm arrogant snob because I'm both intimidatingly tall and slightly quiet on first meeting (leftovers of school-age shyness) - an impression I work hard to get rid of!

    I'm unsure if its easier in either extreme.....

    Commenter
    xabie
    Location
    the amazon
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 9:58AM
    • So true! I'm 5'11" and I think people often think I'm a bit 'unreachable' personally when they first meet me.

      I love being tall. Especially, as you mention, that I can fluxuate in weight from 60-65 kilos and no one will notice. My clothes still fit the same. Lots of clothes look better on a longer body too (I modelled for years and this is definitely true - designers love a long body!)
      However sometimes I'd give anything to blend into a crowd better. To be able to wear heels without everyone staring or to be able to wear a funky fur coat and get away with it. Instead everything I wear is even more dramatic because of my height!

      Commenter
      ash
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 4:01PM
  • As a 6 ft (183 cm) woman I can't say I have ever really seen any downsides to being tall, except maybe once for a fleeting moment when that guy I had an eye on confessed he preferred his women to be "small-scale landscapes" (right up to that next moment when I thought "Idiot.") But then, I grew up in a country where girls and boys were all just kids who were valued and admonished for things other than being perceived to be cute or not cute. Under the influence of Anglosaxon media and the global world we live in this has unfortunately changed in my home country as well: girls are now openly valued for being nice to look at, manageable in size and not too vocal. However, the idea that these traits will bring you success as a woman is a myth - unless a woman's success is defined by being able to please certain types of men. Rather, the promotion of these traits as desirable for women are the lazy man's solution to culling a large swath of what would otherwise be fierce competitors for jobs and money. As a tall and outspoken woman I am well aware that some men are intimidated by me, which in the workplace is by far preferable to the responses some of my shorter colleagues receive - ranging from being literally and figuratively overlooked to being patronised or bullied. It makes me thankful that thanks to my height I do not have to spend time thinking out strategies for being taken seriously as a female professional. As for the other areas in life, luckily being opinionated, unconventional and challenging attracts just the sorts of friends and consorts I like...

    Commenter
    artefact
    Date and time
    April 30, 2013, 10:01AM
    • Thank you artefact. I wanted someone to mention the real advantages of size for women in a competitive workplace. The simple act of taking up space often means that people can't ignore you, even if they want to. It makes you hard to intimidate (and sometimes quite intimidating for those poor folk who don't know how to interact with women that they can't put in convenient little boxes that say 'conventionally attractive'). Of course, not every woman is likely to view being hard to intimidate or intimidating as an advantage, but if you embrace it can be fabulous!

      Commenter
      meh
      Date and time
      April 30, 2013, 10:28AM

More comments

Comments are now closed