In a world full of confounding realities–how does photosynthesis happen? Why do people enjoy the music of Neil Diamond?–this is a particularly tricky one. I’m not tall, and I happen to know a number of people like me. In discussion, we’ve learned that it’s quite common for a certain type of person to make remarks about height. “You’re short, you can fit in that seat!” “How short are you, anyway?” “Were you always short?” “Look–that kid is as tall as you are! That’s hilarious!” Remarks like this are commonplace.
But why? Why is it acceptable to talk about how short people are to their face? Okay, sure, if it’s in good fun, that’s fine. But if you can rib someone about height in good fun, you can surely rib them about other topics in good fun. “Hey, when did you get so fat?” “Have you gained weight in recent years?” “Has your face always been pudgy, or has that recently changed?” “How’s the whole male pattern-baldness thing going for you?” “Did you always have knock-knees, or has that developed over time?” “Did it bother you being ugly when you were a child? If so, how does it compare in adulthood?” “Your eyes seem very small on your head. Kind of freaky!”
These would all be terribly gauche comments in polite conversation. Why, then, is it okay to call attention to a person’s shortness? It’s a physical characteristic just like those I’ve humorously referenced above. Yes, shortness is a rather obvious trait. But so is ugliness, or baldness, or creeping obesity, or misshapenness. For some reason, it’s okay to discuss a lack of height. May I suggest that it should not be?
This happens all the time with children. If you have smaller children, people often exclaim on seeing them, “She’s so little!” I’m thinking, as a teaching moment, I may start responding, “Yes, and your baby is so pudgy!” or “He’s so alien-like!” or “She’s rather boyish, isn’t she?” The same rule will apply if an adult makes a comment to me about my height. “Have you always been short?” will be met with “Have you always carried a well-inflated tire around your midsection?” or “What does it feel like having cankles?” I encourage fellow short people of the world to adopt this perspective and to push for Universal Height Equality.
If you’re reading this with high sensitivity, my tongue is in my cheek. I don’t actually really encourage short people to respond in the manner I’ve laid out. It’s probably not a great idea on the whole. But the question is nonetheless relevant. The principle behind it is real. Shortness is no more deserving of the flouting of social politeness than any other physical trait. There are people in my life who never fail to make a comment about height. Every time they do, somewhere a bunny falls down dead.
By the way, a similar thing happens in sports. If a short guy does well, it’s because he’s “scrappy” or “hustles” or “is cagey.” Can short guys, including guys who can’t dunk, not be athletic? Why can the highest height to which they rise (pun intended) be “scrappy?” Aren’t there all sorts of athleticism outside of vertical leap or bench press? What about hand-speed, foot-speed, hand-eye coordination, anticipation, first-step, ball-handling, depth perception, ability to handle and manage contact, and 1000 other ways of being athletic? Many sports fans dumbly assume that it’s only the highest leaper who’s athletic. That’s a mistake.
And yes, just to be snide, I included a picture of the fantastic 5’10” Maverick JJ Barea scoring on 7’1″ Tim Duncan. I couldn’t resist. Go Mavs.