An Introduction of Sorts
I am not the tallest girl to exist. In fact, by Tall Girl standards, I’m a shrimp at 5’11. But I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t the tallest girl in the room.
If you happen to be reading this (and happen to be not me) you’re probably aware of the different frame of reference used for tall girls, the language that suggests we’re some sort of different species. We’re sometimes fetishized but often just jealously excluded in explicit and/or implicit ways. This blog is pretty much just a place for venting, whining, reflections and hopefully a little inspiration.
My Short BFFs
As I mentioned, I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t the tallest girl in the room. I’m definitely taller than the average man in my region, too. As it turns out I have a lot of amazing friends who all happen to be 5’3 or less.
Small people in the world can’t be painted with the same brush, just like tall or large people. That said, perhaps there’s a little bit of pop-psychology grass-is-greener friend attraction going on there. Maybe it’s evolutionary: I can get my pal’s magic bullet blender from the top shelf, and she can climb in my window when I’ve locked myself out of my house. But sometimes – actually, many times, our height difference is a source of alienation for us both.
Example 1: Activities. We wouldn’t be friends if we didn’t enjoy doing some of the same things. For most of the time, that’s not a problem – pouring a glass of wine doesn’t require a minimum height, other seated endeavors are great. One of my friends loves to run. That is where height becomes a real factor. I love her, and we do a good job encouraging one another. But we cannot run together. The sheer numbers make it impossible: She is technically just a little over half my weight: 55% to be precise. As a result it only takes her half the energy to move the same distance. She’s fast. Like, prize-winning fast. I’m barely considered a runner and often wonder whether I should be timed as a runner or a walker, since the speeds aren’t actually that different between the two.
So we can’t run together. Similarly, we can’t do yoga together. She’s never had a problem doing push-ups. She can balance her entire body on her forearms. Her tree pose is more like a bonsai-pose (and never, ever waivers). I am a human lever: my extremities are further from my center and take much more energy to lift, bend, prop, etc. So we accept that physical activities just aren’t something we can do together.
Example 2: Attraction. One of the cruellest realities of being the tallest girl in the room is that – heteronormativity alert – short men like short women. And tall men… like short women. The idea of being small is so closely bound to the idea of being a woman that they may as well be identical. Yes, patriarchy, yes, beauty standards, and yes, the fetishizing of youth feed into this. I know that. Intellectually I can rationalize it very well.
The trouble is, that doesn’t dull the sting of being overlooked (so to speak) or masculinized. I no longer go dancing because on the dancefloor all my girlfriends can make eye contact, laugh, chat — I never hear a word — and I am head and shoulders above them. Buzzfeed will tell you that it’s great to be able to survey the whole dance floor. So great. I just love looking at all the men in the room, looking past or even through me to see my size 1 or 0 friends.
Example 3: Clothing. The guys look at them in part because they dress better than I do. Because they can. They walk into stores designed for young women and find things in their size. Most stores are either designed for “petite” women or have “petite” sections. Some stores have “plus size” — at the back, to hide the larger women from passers-by — but no physical stores have a “tall” section. Jeans, thanks to the gap, are starting to offer tall lengths that aren’t “plus sized.”
I tried to go to a store for plus-sized women – and nothing fit because while I’m tall, I’m in the no-woman’s-land of not big enough for plus sized clothing, and not small (skinny?) enough for most stores. I am left with guesses on internet specialty sites.
Let’s not even talk about the fact that high heels are sexy and essentially verboten for me. Sure, I still wear them, but I need my game face on, my psychic armour up on high and my retorts for the following comments rehearsed:
- How tall are you?
- Are you wearing heels or something?
- How dare you wear heels?
- How’s the weather up there?
In many ways I’ve learned cheats on how to cope with being the tallest girl/person in the room.
Ballet slippers (not flats, even those have a centimeter that can make all the difference) whenever I’m standing in choir or can be sure I’ll be indoors.
I’ve learned to cross my legs to minimize or disguise the width I take up when seated, with sheer power of muscle and will I can even contort my crossed legs so they don’t trip people on the bus or at the movie theatre.
I slouch to one side of my seat – praying for armrests – so that I can angle my legs out away from the dinner tables, diner booths, conference tables. When that’s not an option, I perch on my chair and “lean in”, literally painfully aware of my feet folding back under my chair, leaning my elbows on the table for stability.
Body language is almost everything. I can’t stand tall or proud, I can’t stretch in front of people, and when I’m in the presence of men I must angle myself toward them, tilt my head, give all the signals that I’m smaller or weaker than I am. Otherwise I am accused of being intimidating (yes, explicitly), or privy to inappropriate jokes (because I’m one of the guys/masculinized) or informed that I’m probably a lesbian — I was once told that I was the subject of a bet at the office I worked for, whether I was a lesbian or not, because none of the men were attracted to me. Perhaps it’s a subject for another blog, but I’m bisexual and, once again, I’m in the no-man’s land of too femme for the LGBT community to believe I like women and too tall for the straight community to believe I like men. But I digress.
I buy all my shoes, boots and clothes online. It means that sometimes I get the sizing wrong, and I’ve come to know which “tall” inseams are simply not tall enough. I’m learning how to hide my body more — cardigans to hide my arms and post-baby love handles, blazers upon blazers to disguise my bulk. A-line skirts. These things you learn.
Since gaining some weight after my son was born, I’m also learning that bigness in one direction amplifies bigness in the other. I’ve had to learn how to be “the funny one,” the confident-out-of-necessity one, the one who “should be flattered” when, in the off-chance, someone cat-calls me or hits on me or thinks I’m younger or weigh less than I do. I’m no longer seen as willowy, I’m seen as “sturdy” “strong” or just “big.” Anyone else thinking about lumberjacks now?
So there you have it. The first sprawling, simpering post of the tallest girl in the room. I’ll come back to these themes, I’ll openly struggle – and maybe have some pointers – about my wardrobe, my weight, my relationships. I’ll relate stories of alienation. I’ll tackle the “but models are all tall!” myth of attraction and value in society. I’ll probably talk a bit more about being a very tall LGBT woman and some of my struggles in that area. I probably won’t talk about work issues – since I don’t currently have a job and I’m in school full time.
If you’ve read this far, I guess I hope you either gained some insight into your taller friends’ potential experiences (from what I can tell, there’s a lot of shared experience) or felt a little less alone as a tallest girl in your situation.
All the love,