Many people are surprised to hear that I forget that I am tall. Granted, being 6’2” as a twenty-year-old woman is unusual, though living against the grain of the omnipresent gender height binary is often something that can genuinely fail to cross my mind for days on end. I try to overlook the fact that other girls can go out and find shoes in their size without a second thought; I neglect how ridiculous I can look when stood next to my friends that fall on the other side of ‘average’. It’s the body that I wake up in every day, and spending the past two decades within it has simply left the sight of the tops of people’s heads pretty integral to my worldview.
And I suppose that’s why, then, that the reminders hit hard. As with several aspects of the ‘ideal body’, the extreme is unfavourable; though women are under enormous pressure to (literally) look up to models to emulate in style in stature, tipping the six-foot mark – and therefore the typically ‘unfeminine’ mark – come with its own set of grievances. The eternal struggle of low ceilings and legroom on public transport, yes – but also the intersection with being female that results in the sense of entitlement people feel to an explanation of a body that doesn’t quite fit within their expectations.
Those that demand the facts and figures within seconds of meeting me (or even just seeing me as a passerby) are the worst. The people who ask these questions, no matter how innocent they may be, will always remind me of the ones who have have been a source of genuine unease or upset. Sometimes, I just get the “You’re tall!”, which is frustrating only in its bizarre implication of the assumption that I wouldn’t have already noticed. But sometimes, it’s considerably worse, and markedly gendered, ranging from inquiries as to how long my legs are (0/10 recommend as a chat up line) to the sickeningly transphobic insults thrown out of vans that seem to go along the lines of thinking that because I am tall, I must have been born biologically male.
Throughout my adolescence I really let these comments stick with me, feeling almost permanently uncomfortably conspicuous in the corridors of my all-girls secondary school filled with students about two thirds of my size. And pushing 5’7” at twelve, the fact I could never fulfil the archetypal mode of ‘cute’ year seven was a hard pill to swallow, throwing me into years of attempts to shrink myself by sticking to the sidelines of parties and crowds and sports. The ever-prevalent quip of “short man syndrome” never leaves room for the fact that being on the other side of the equation – that is, as a tall woman – can have its psychological impact, too.
But the older I get, the less I care, and the less forgiving I become of people’s ignorance. I know that anyone’s decision to pass a verdict on a matter of appearance I have no control of whatsoever says much more about them than it does me, and at the very least my height has been an early life lesson in the staggering rudeness members of the public are capable of. Height is just another sexist brick in the wall of gender stereotyping, and I am just as ‘female’ as a woman who is 5’4”. For those that think otherwise…I’ll just make sure I am stood in front of you at a concert next time.