Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On Being Tall ...

I am tall.

Not this tall, but tall.

This essay by Rebecca Thomas was written for a journalism class and ended up on a New York Times blog. Doreen was kind enough to forward the link.

Doreen is that kind of friend. I often receive envelopes in my mailbox – Doreen-o-Grams, I call them – chock full o' interesting tidbits: articles, cartoons, clippings of all kinds. And some days, I receive links instead. The stories are always interesting, but rarely do they resonate with as much depth as the essay today.

In June 2005, I published a blog post of a column I once wrote, thinking I would get it published in the Chicago Tribune. That never panned out, but the sentiment remains the same.

Here's what I said then:

No, I don’t play basketball. And the air up here is just fine, thanks.

My mother gets mad at me when I call myself a freak of nature. But I’m taller – way taller – than the average female height of 5-foot-4. Five-foot-4 is elfin to me. Adorable. Precious, even.

People ask me, more often than I’d care to respond to, “How tall are you?,” as if it matters. I’m taller than you are, aren’t I?, I want to retort. Actually, I never quite know how to answer them. Which height do they want? The in-my-stocking-feet-with-my-hair-smooshed-down doctor’s office height? Or the ready-for-work-wearing-shoes-with-my-hair-kinda-poofy height? My stock answer has become, “Six three, six six with the hair.”

I suppose I could save myself a few askance glances if I’d just wear my hair like Marcia Brady, but it’s not a good look for me, so I endure.

(For those of you who are wondering about my parents, my father’s peak was 6-foot-4 and mom was always proud to tell people that she was 5-foot-9 “and three-quarters.” She’s very honest. She never rounded up.)

All through my school years, when it came time for class pictures, you could always count on seeing me in the middle of the back row. I was the starting point. Tallest kid in the middle of the top riser, thereby making me taller still.

And clothes? Not as big an issue these days, but when you’re in 7th grade, it’s a different story. My mom used to make my Halloween costumes in grade school, so I suppose I could have donned those every day. What’s weirder? A 5-foot-11 7th grader wearing clothes that aren’t long enough, or a 5-foot-11 ... Lutheran ... who attends public school ... 7th grader wearing a nun’s habit every day?

I’m amused by stores and catalogs that tout “tall” sizes, only to discover that their definition of “tall” is up to 5-foot-9. Ha! Long Gap jeans are too short for me. And yes, you’re right, there are shops for tall women, and yes, the jeans are long enough, although while I suppose jeans for tall women technically do have deeper pockets, I don’t quite understand why I pay $60 for a pair of jeans that are $30 at the Gap. Thirty dollars for a couple extra inches of inseam seems like a bit of a rip-off.

Which brings me to shoes. I wear a 12. Most stores stop at 10. And I get plenty annoyed with my friends who wear a 7 who complain, as if to sympathize with me, that they, too, can never find shoes because 7 is the most popular size and it always sells out first.

Boo. Hoo.

So, off I go to the price-gouging tall-people shoe store in search of some simple, conservative oxfords to go with a simple, conservative outfit recently purchased for some business events. When I tell the salesman what I’m looking for, he half-heartedly shows me what might work, and then adds, “Everything else we carry is a little more … fashion-forward.”

I’m living in the Dark Ages of footwear. Well, here’s a bulletin for this guy: Chunky-heeled, square-toed black leather shoes might look great on, say, Mary Lou Retton, but on someone who’s my height? One word: Frankenstein.

And then there’s dating. The most popular question on that topic is, “How do you find men tall enough to date?” As if the doorframe of my house is notched in 1-foot increments with a big red arrow, a la the rides at Disneyland, proclaiming, “You must be this tall to enter.” The two men with whom I’ve had discussions of marriage are both about 5 foot 8 – and pretty secure with themselves.

Most days, I don't think about how tall I am. I don't feel tall. I feel like me. Go figure. But just like Rebecca, I get my share of stares and unsolicited comments. "Wow, you're tall!" people say, as if I might not have known. Kids can stare, that's fine. That's what kids do when they see anything outside their normal little worlds. But grown-ups? Glance if you must but please, keep your clichés to yourself.

Because some days, I am acutely aware of my height and wish I was shorter. I stopped wearing heels years ago. I just don't feel the need to be even taller (or to risk looking like RuPaul).


Blogger Jen said...

I like both of your essays- Rebecca's and yours. I think it is often a challenge when you are different from the herd in any way.

For me, being left handed is my challenge. It isn't as bad as your difficulty in finding clothes that are long enough, but it is a pain to have your hand smudge everything you write as it goes over the page and every time I walk up to a counter to sign in some place or have a document handed to me to sign, I have to pick it up and turn it the other way. The little credit card machines where you have to sign on the screen are nearly impossible for me to write on due to the angle they are often fixed at. These are things that right handed people probably never even think about.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

I'm at the opposite extreme. I am short for a man--5' 4". BTW, I think the claim that the average woman is 5'4" is not true, as MOST women are taller than I am (I would say that 5' 5" is more like it). Anyhow, I think everyone has some little thing that makes them different--it's just for some of us it is more obvious than others.

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Alison said...

When you told me how tall you are in an e-mail, I think I responded, "Wow! You're tall."

Being a precious 5'4", what can I say?

Also, everything Jen said about being left-handed? It's true.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

I second the sentiment of not "feeling" tall.

I mean, I know I'm tall (taller than Beth, but for practical intents and purposes we are eye-level standing), and use my height as an advantage when it suits me, but otherwise I feel like, well, me.

Not that it makes clothes shopping any easier.

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Natalie said...

I'm 5'10" and love to wear heels just to be taller than 6'.
How nice to be special (at 6'3")rather than average.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

For what it's worth, I don't think looking like RuPaul is anything you really have to worry about...

And yes, I understand, generally what you mean. I'm 6'7", and, while for guys that's considered a little closer to the norm, the fact remains that the world is not made for tall people, it seems. I have to deal enough with that sort of thing, so please, keep the comments to yourselves... :)

9:23 PM  

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