“Stand up straight,” my mom would tell me, pulling my shoulders back.
It was a phrase I heard quite often growing up. But my poor posture didn’t stem from laziness. It was the result of insecurity.
With a 6-foot-tall mom and a 6-foot-4-inch dad, it was a given I’d be tall. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was 6-foot-2, taller than almost every one of my peers. I would wear flats and pop my hip or even bend slightly at the knees while standing in groups of my much-shorter friends. I thought even if I was just 1 or 2 inches shorter, I would fit in that much more.
I wasn’t alone. In a recent study conducted by Wakefield Research for London-based Long Tall Sally, a female tall-fashion specialty store, 72 percent of tall women have downplayed their height in a social setting. One in 5 vertically gifted women has lied about how tall she is.
When you’re growing up and trying desperately to fit in — whether it’s the rough days of middle school, high school or even your early 20s — tall people are always seen, always noticed. It’s no wonder we grow up thinking we’re different. We are. And the older I get, the more I realize what an asset that is. Not only do taller people statistically earn more money (a salary increase of about $789 per year per every inch of height, according to a 2004 study), but people instinctively turn to us as leaders, we can always see the band at standing-room-only concerts, extra pounds aren’t as immediately noticeable on our waistlines and, yes, we can reach things on the top shelf. But when you’re young and every girl is joining the cheerleading squad or dating boys who tower over them, it’s hard to gain that necessary perspective.
My mom, who also went through life as what strangers often deem an “Amazon,” taught me that slouching only makes a tall person look taller. She’d say, “You’re tall. You’re going to stand out, no matter what. Why not hold your head high? Walk with confidence, and you’ll look statuesque.”
I’ve been trying to nail down what makes life different, and sometimes more difficult, for us tall people. My average-height friends never seem to believe me when I say I get at least one tall comment a day. That is until they walk down the street with me and notice the stares, gawks and whispers as we pass strangers. Sometimes the comments are flattering, but often they’re ignorant or even rude, like when a couple recently stopped me on the street to tell me they’d never met an American as tall as I or the stranger who called me “leafeater.”
That’s nothing, though, compared with the comments Baylor basketball star Brittney Griner has received. The 6-foot-8-inch center is amazing at her craft — she can dunk, made more than 80 percent of her free throws this season and has scored in the double digits in 70 straight games — yet that doesn’t stop the Twitterverse from viciously attacking her for her height. One Twitter user called her wingspan “disgusting,” while a different Tweet suggested the extra “T” in her first name stood for “testosterone.” Yet another said if he saw her on ESPN SportsCenter one more time, he’d “be sick. Like I literally get grossed out every time I see her.”
Griner said the comments don’t bother her, but Baylor women’s head coach Kim Mulkey can’t say the same.
“This is someone’s child,” Mulkey said at a recent news conference in defense of Griner. “This is a human being. She didn’t wake up and say, ‘Make me look like this, make me 6-foot-8 and have the ability to dunk.’ This child is as precious as they come.”
Why such crude commentary about a person’s height? No matter the reason, it’s unsettling, and I finally realized why, thanks to Arianne Cohen, the 6-foot-3 author of “The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life From on High.”
“The true challenge of tall life is not that you’re tall,” Cohen wrote in her 2009 book. “Who cares about that? Legs are legs. The challenge is that everyone can see you, all the time. Eyes follow everywhere you go. You’re public. On display. There is no hiding. Learning to love yourself has nothing to do with the blather you see in women’s magazines about treating your body as a temple — it’s learning to accept the high-wattage spotlight that came packaged with your body, always shining on you. I can tell you what it feels like to resist: like a non-performer pushed on stage, day after day.”
A Long Tall Sally survey found that 29 percent of tall women want to do away with stereotypes like having to steer clear of heels or the notion that we’re all basketball and volleyball players. And 26 percent said they’d like to dispel the cliche that tall women can’t date shorter guys. My hope is that these percentages will continue to grow, and tall women will realize such height is a gift, no matter how often society tries to tell them otherwise.
Source: Chicago Tribune