By the time I reached middle school I had begun asking my parents if I could start getting HGH (human growth hormone) injections. I was growing tired of the unoriginal and sometimes hurtful name-calling targeting my small stature. I envisioned my future tainted by my pediatrician’s prediction that I wouldn’t be growing much taller and felt discouraged. My parents persistently encouraged me to appreciate my body the way that it was made, but it’s no secret that that poses a challenge for most middle school aged kids (and really, humans at any age). Much to my adolescent frustration, my parents did not allow me to get hormone injections.
When I reached high school I somehow adopted a new nickname that “harmlessly” poked fun at my size…Variations of my name with “baby” tacked on in front of it (i.e. “Baby K”, “Baby Keely”, etc.). It stuck through senior year. Truthfully, I didn’t totally hate it. I mostly just appreciated the fact that I was well liked enough to have an “endearing” nickname. In college, the nicknames decreased quite a bit for whatever reason, but the constant ways in which my size is brought to my attention and to the attention of those around me continues to impact the ways in which I view myself and the world.
Most of us are aware of the messages that bombard women (and also men) regarding how our bodies should look. Society tells me that I should be grateful that I am small because “tall guys love short girls” and I never have to worry about being taller than men while wearing heels or be burdened with not finding a husband taller than me.*Barf*. We are telling women who don’t meet those standards of smallness that there is something wrong with their bodies. We are perpetuating the outdated and frankly ridiculous notions that women are meant to be smaller, weaker, and more fragile than men. We are continuing to frame the aspirations of women to focus on male preference and marriage. We are pressuring males to feel threatened when a woman is taller than them, which encourages hyper-masculinity and insecurity for both men and women. AND we are devaluing short women as independent, capable beings.
Every human battles with variations of insecurity. While I have grown to love my body at four feet ten inches and am thankful for my parents’ encouragement of that, some days I still find myself wishing for six more inches. In terms of self love, there is work to be done internally. But societal and external change is in need of attention as well. One focus of the modern feminist movement includes self love, body positivity, and the embrace of difference. Of course we need to continue changing our ideals of beauty and what is acceptable and celebrate diversity. But perhaps we also need to encourage one another past our insecurities in a different way. While I have learned to love, embrace, and even use my height for personal gain, I struggle most when someone highlights my size in a group setting and I am not interested in having my shortness as a focus of those around me.
I am so much more than small, but that has always been the first and primary trait that others notice about me. When all someone can focus on is the size of my body, it is difficult to feel as if I am taken seriously. Many times others point out my height in a loving way. I understand their intentions and I don’t hold their words against them, but whether a comment is intended as complimentary or not, generally I don’t want to be singled out over something I cannot control. Most people notice my size on their own, but verbally bringing it to the attention of a group generally only incites insecurity. We all have quirks and parts of our bodies that are difficult for us to love but that others may adore. Expressing adoration to another is extremely important in celebrating one another and building each other’s confidence, however, a group setting may not be ideal for this. Even if you think there is no possible way for your compliment to promote insecurity, try to tell the person one-on-one what you admire about them instead of in a group. This allows room for the person to feel embarrassed if needed, but to also embrace the compliment without intimidation of an audience.This is especially important for people we don’t know well. For those that we are closer to, it is easier to draw upon past experiences and body language to determine how someone may feel about a public comment on their body, appearance, or character. As an introvert, this is my preference, but others may not share the same feelings or anxieties, which leads me to my next point…
ASK! During my senior of high school, an advisor with whom I worked with regularly asked me how I felt about my childish nickname. He recognized that I was becoming a young adult and may not appreciate being referred to as a “baby”. At the time, without giving it much thought, it told him that I didn’t mind, however, it was empowering and comforting to know that I would have support if I felt I needed to be taken more seriously. Ask others how they feel when attention is put on them. It may feel exciting and empowering, but it may also feel uncomfortable. Our backgrounds and personalities produce a variety of reactions, preferences, and anxieties… generally, you can’t go wrong with well-intentioned, respectful communication.
Other than a few instances of bullying and being made fun of in my childhood, there have been countless instances in which I have been treated differently because of my height. In high school, there were times in which I was actually treated like a child. For instance, when my peers suggested I needed to hold someone’s hand to cross the street. I was 17. (This actually happened). I can’t count the amount of times that an older male has insisted I need help carrying a large or heavy object as I continue to politely decline assistance or how many times someone has asked, “How tall are you?” immediately after meeting me.
In young adulthood I am looked over, talked over, and often struggle to command the attention of those around me. It is evident to me when I am trying to exercise leadership and it is undermined because I am literally looked down upon. This world poses enormous challenges for non-male and non-binary individuals who attempt to demonstrate leadership, and a small stature contributes to these challenges of achieving a status of value.
This is not an attempt to guilt my peers or seek sympathy. This is an attempt to look at how we celebrate and bring attention to our differences. Our voices and gifts are unique, important, and deserve to be taken seriously. Let us appreciate and value one another and consider whether our comments are appropriate or if they take away from an individual feeling empowered and valued.