All / Originally Posted on Skirt

Zarafa: Thoughts on Height

While I was in Toronto my mom bought me a great little book by Arianne Cohen called “ The Tall Book”.  It’s the first (maybe the only) definitive nonfiction book about people of above average height.  It’s especially geared towards women, naturally, Arianne being a female of the species. 

Now, I’ve always known that I am tall.  I’ve written about it a bit before.  But honestly, I don’t think of myself as being THAT tall.  Above average, certainly, but not off the chart. 

That is, until I actually saw the chart.  (There’s a chart in the front of the book, and you can also look it up on the CDC statistics website thingy.)  Average height for an American woman aged 20 to 29 is 64.2 inches, about 5’3”.  I am 5’11” tall.  A 5’8” woman my age is taller than 95% of the female American population in our age group.  I am taller than more than 99% of my female peers in the US.  Quite literally, they haven’t even put me on the chart.  (Britain?  I’ve been trying to find the statistics, but I’m not sure where to look!)

One of the first times I remember being uncomfortable about my height was when I was about sixteen or so and a friend tried to brand me with the nickname ‘freakishly tall.’  Naturally, this did not go down well with me.  I was able to point out, possibly in a slightly defensive, whiny way, that I’d prefer to think of my height as a point of pride rather than a reason for pointing and laughing from my peers.  The nickname disappeared.  Now I would take a slightly different tack: toss of hair, a brief eyelash flutter and then, “Darling, it’s not that I am so very tall…it is everyone else who is strangely short!”  Or I could start employing the insults from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when the two female leads get into a strop over the guys:  “Fie, fie!  You counterfeit, you puppet, you!”

I dearly love my shorter-than-average friends, by the way.  We often have the same problems but approached from different angles, so to speak.  I was out shoe shopping with a friend in a popular British discount chain store and we both wanted to try on the same pair of shoes.  I knew they were unlikely to come in my size, because most retailers don’t even bother to stock women’s shoes that big (9 here in the UK, 11 at home.)  My small-but-mighty friend was unable to try them on either…they didn’t stock any that small. 

So naturally, one of the big questions in the Tall book is…what about tall dating?  A particular bugaboo for tall girls, mostly because people assume we can’t find dates.  Though I hate to admit it, there is some truth to this, in American society particularly.  You might have heard the statistic that the ‘ideal’ height difference between partners is 8%.  Evolutionary biologists have a quite a bit to say about this, but the thing is, there are so many differences across cultures that in my opinion it’s obviously driven by societal norms rather than biological imperative.  (I’d cite the page number or chapter that covers these concepts in The Tall Book, but as I type this my copy’s been usurped by another tall friend!)  Plus, the ideal-height studies usually only take heterosexual reproductive mate pairing into account, which is pretty poor study design.  

On a personal level, height isn’t something that ever bothered me in a dating partner.  Until I broke up with my last boyfriend, that is.  Not because he was short—he was maybe half an inch taller than me, which is a little bit above average for a guy, according to the chart.  No, what happened was, I fell out of a relationship that had been a very defining one for me, and because it had been so splendid, I didn’t want to jump right into something so serious again the next time around.  I promised myself that the next romantic partnership I involved myself in would be much more relaxed.  More than that!  I promised myself it would be based on something COMPLETELY frivolous.  I swore to myself, just because I could, that the next person I went out with would be considerably taller than me.

Yeah, so that was almost two years ago.  What have I learned in that time?  That there really, really aren’t all that many men (or women!) I genuinely need to look up at.  (Backed up by statistics!)  By the way, tall men are the most reproductively successful of ANYBODY IN THE WORLD (cf The Tall Book, again.)  Tall men, it seems, feel they can go out with anybody, regardless of their height or their partner’s.  Like I said, I’m not that bothered about whether my partner is shorter than I am or not (well, not usually, anyway.)  But a lot of men just don’t want to go out with taller women.  I’m not just saying this, I have good old Arianne to back me up (again, I would cite, but alas the book is not in front of me).  Anyway my point is that the tall men I do know, the ones I do need to look up at—who comprise a number considerably less than ten, less than five of whom are single (start talking intelligence, charm and wit, and the pool could fit in a very long, thin thimble)—these tall men see me as one little fish swimming amongst many in the sea of potential dating partners, whereas for me, the tall guys (currently) get undue preferential treatment.  Which they probably don’t notice, as they’re too busy looking over my shoulder at my hot shorter friends. 

So clearly, I’m completely incapable of entering a romantic relationship based on shallow, frivolous conditions.  Part of me feels like this is a basic skill everyone should be able to master without difficulty.  But actually, I rather think it might be better this way.

By the way, Arianne uses the image of a giraffe in her book quite frequently as a sort of unifying image round which all tall folk can rally.  The word ‘giraffe’ comes from the Arabic word ‘zarafa’ which refers in its various declensions to anything chic, lovely, fashionable, charming, witty, or graceful.