Well. First off, let’s just get it out of the way: people on TV are beautiful. Kit Harrington is Beautiful. So are Sophie Turner and Gwendolyn Christie.
Now, let’s talk about fictions. It’s genuinely amusing to me when I read unsubstantiated (read: self-reported/wkipedia) reports about height. It really brings home how much we, as a society, marginalize when it comes to deviations from the norm.
Because if you read any male actor’s wikipedia page or bio, it will likely say one of two heights: 6’1 or 5’9. Sometimes, if they are undeniably or marketably extreme, it will vary by an inch or two. Like in Mr. Harrington’s case.
Women, on the other hand, have two different settings: those where height is not mentioned and those where it is. My completely unscientific estimate is that those who are actually about 5’7 and under… their height is just not talked about. 4’8? “Diminuitive” or “cute” but not quantified.
Now, this is something I noticed a few years ago – okay, like ten years ago – people on TV have weird proportions. Their heads are huge in relation to their shoulders/bodies/hips (for women esp.). Why? This makes their features stand out.
Did you know everyone’s eyeballs are roughly the same size? Don’t think about that too much or you’ll get grossed out. But think about this: the cultural (and maybe universal?) aesthetic values all tend to align with big eyes. Since eyes are actually all the same size, if the rest of you is smaller you are gaining in that physio-cultural currency. Your eyes are bigger compared to the rest of you. This also enforces social ideals for weight: the leaner you are, the greater the effect.
The fetish of large eyes applies to men and women on-screen (though it’s only women who are pushed to endure smearing toxic chemicals around their eyes and hours-long eyelash weaves to keep up the illusion). Men with bigger eyes are seen as sensitive, brooding, soulful. They also need a strong jaw to be leading man material, which means that skinny and slight – but muscular – is the recipe for success. High contrast features amplify the effect, as well, which of course has implications for the overabundance of pale leading men and white leading men.
The effects of all this proportion-worship?
- Smaller leading men are cast when the man has to appeal to female audiences. (Comedies, as an aside, get a pass because a comic lead is not meant to draw in the viewer in the same way a dramatic lead is. Thus, Will Farrell.)
- So smaller leading women must be cast to adhere to gender expectations – don’t get me started.
- Taller or heavier-set women are usually cast as threats to the male lead or desexualized.
Another effect is that there is huge pressure in show business to lie about your height. We have a narrative that Men can’t be shorter than 5’8 or 5’9. So men who are shorter than that simply round up, changing the definition of 5’9 rather than changing their height. This is one of the benefits of being the top rung of patriarchy.
For women it’s more insidious. Women in show business don’t (can’t) really talk about their height, and no one else does unless it threatens the construct of Hollywood-5’9. It’s possible that they’re silenced because accusing coworkers of lying doesn’t get you very far in business. If a woman lies about her height, she is openly, loudly rebuffed: “You can’t be 5’8 because I’m 5’9 dammit!”
But in the end, the effect is that women’s height is externally invoked, both in Hollywood and everyday life that learns from it; If you are taller than average you will be asked to name your height or openly speculated upon. If you are 5’7 or lower, you make the shorter leading man look just right. You affirm a petite world where heads/eyes/features are maximized. You benefit from it. And you never have to declare or justify your size.
Of course, you want to point out, there are many successful tall actresses out there. Petite people are often quick to point out that tall women gain many benefits and are revered by men.
Well, I respectfully disagree on that last part.
But because of gender stereotype, these women have fewer roles because, and this is repeating myself, casting directors want men who have some feminine/attraction attributes like giant eyes which means they are typically shorter which means that short women get the opposing roles. And all other roles. They aren’t excluded.
How tall is Kit Harrington? It is a serious question for me, because its implications are significant for how women are represented and normalized in our culture.