On The Social Constructs Surrounding Tall Women
By Ryann Dannelly for www.literallydarling.com
There’s no hiding from your height, especially when you’re an exceptionally tall woman.
When I say tall, I’m referring to the women that have to buy their clothes mostly online or wear everything three-quarter-length style and pull it off as a fashion statement.
I’m 6’2’. People have told me that height shouldn’t matter, and in the grand scheme of life, it doesn’t. Height doesn’t shape personality; it doesn’t affect the way we treat others. It has no bearing on our career, or anything really.
But that doesn’t mean that I—like most tall women—am still not consciously aware of my height at all times, as well as the implications associated with that height.
The average American man is 5’10 while the average woman is 5’4. When you’re a woman whose height exceeds the average male height, that statistic stings just a little bit.
By the time I was a junior in high school, I had become consciously aware of my height.
I learned the art of crouching down in photos to keep my head at the same level as everyone else, trying my best to make the poses natural. For any group photo session, I quickly learned that my position was in the back row. Regardless of how fantastic my outfit was at the time, it was never going to make it into the photos.
I tried brushing off these moments, like being continually shoved to the back didn’t bother me. It was the logical placement. But it did bother me. I would position myself in the back row, uttering some joke at the expense of my height. If I made the joke first, then no one else could.
It became the norm for people to draw attention to my height, in case I wasn’t already fully aware. In fact, I found my femininity questioned on multiple occasions, strictly because of my height.
One of those mortifying moments was during a high school physics class. The guy next to me had just finished describing how he planned on asking his girlfriend to the prom. With complete sincerity, he then asked what my plans were. When I asked what he meant, I received this bashful reply:
“Well, you play for the other team.”
He was wrong. I asked why he thought that.
“Because of your height, you know? You’re taller than the guys, so I just thought.”
He just thought. I was beyond embarrassed, and I hadn’t even done anything wrong.
It’s a baffling notion to think that one’s height correlates with either their femininity or sexuality.
Since then, my height has only continued to play a role in ways that an average-sized woman is not affected. I paid my way through college by playing Div. I basketball, using my height in a system where extreme size was sought after and valued.
For the first time, I learned to be proud of my height.
Other young women with extreme height surrounded me on the team. I no longer stood out. I wasn’t alone. By watching the way they acted, I realized that there was no shame in being a tall woman. Height didn’t define any of us. My confidence grew, for I no longer felt isolated because of something I couldn’t change.
But now that I’ve left the context of college athletics, height is once again ever-prevalent, especially in the dating world.
Social conventions have led the majority of people to believe that men should be taller than women in relationships. There’s even a name for it: the “male-taller norm.” It was a term coined by researchers Ellen Berscheid and Elaine Walster Hatfield in 1973.
Think about it under the constructs of how heterosexual couples are depicted in movies and TV. There’s this unspoken rule that the male lead has to be taller, or at least as tall, as their female costar. When a male actor is shorter, the scenes tend to be filmed using various angles and cover-ups techniques to make the male appear taller.
What message is that sending?
This idea that men have to be taller than women in relationships persists in part because the media projects couple after couple that perfectly fit in with this model.
But where does that leave tall women?
I’m consciously aware of not only my height, but of the heights of everyone around me. Our society has trained my subconscious to think under the male-taller norm. It’s the reason why a certain amount of insecurity still exists for me in the dating front.