Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Tall story

Most of my adult life I have endured being stared at. It’s unnerving. People really have a good look at me in public. I am so used to it now I barely notice, but when I was a teenager it was a constant source of anxiety. It made me feel like a freak.

When travelling with Ellen doing our show Women Like Us, she observed the phenomenon with some shock: ‘Are you aware how much people stare at you?’ It was freaking her out a bit, but I guess I am kind of used to it. Worn down by years of people having a good look. I try to not notice people noticing me. It’s the tall thing. It still shocks people if you are a tall woman. They like to get an extra long look because I don’t blend in very well. I pretend people look at me because I’m gorgeous, but I know it’s because they think I’m a bit freaky. Or I look a lot like Elle McPherson. Which I do inside my mind photographs that I keep of myself to boost my self-esteem. I sometimes wonder if these pervy strangers think I’m a super model who’s let herself go and they’re staring hard to work out which one. ‘Claudia?’ ‘Definitely not Twiggy’. It happened again the other day. I was queuing at the airport waiting to get through my gate when a businessman walked past. I saw him have a good hard look at me. I don’t make eye contact because that will just invite him in. I put up the wall. I know he’s looking because he does that thing people do when they forget to hide that they are looking: he stops right in front of me and actually looks me up and down, raises his eyebrows, nods his head and then walks past me. Fucking Weirdo. And it’s a really bad suit. Like something he’s been wearing since the 80s.

Then he comes back. I think Oh No he’s going to talk to me. Bad-for-business suit parks himself bang in front of me and asks ‘How Tall are you?’ Nice opener, mate. Does he also go up to fat people and ask how much they weigh? Ask cripples how disabled they are? It’s a really stupid question. It’s not worth talking about.

Especially to a strange man in a bad suit. I want to say 5 foot 2 but that might mean he talks to me for longer. So I say ‘6 foot’. He’s impressed. It’s like I’m a fish. A really really big fish. Then he says, ‘I know this Chinese girl who is 6 foot 3’. What am I supposed to do with that random bit of information? I say ‘Oh. That’s tall’. Does he think I might know her? That tall girls meet up at a secret club once a month and measure each other? That we drink champagne and tell tall stories? (Mainly about stupid short men who ask dumb questions.) I see nothing interesting whatsoever in a person’s height.

Especially about what a freak I am in comparison to ‘normally’ sized women. They would say they don’t mean that, but it happens so much, people are so shocked, so interested, so obliged to stop and remark a fact I have known since I was 13 that I can only come to the conclusion that they find my height aberrant and not in line with what women are supposed to be. I am tall. It’s just one very small detail about who I am. I didn’t go on a diet to get tall. I didn’t decide. It’s my DNA. It just happened. It is not a conversation. I still don’t understand why so much unsolicited chat has to revolve around something so inconsequential and so absolutely out of my control.

My being tall is about as interesting as my going up to someone and saying ‘you have brown eyes’. I have secretly marvelled at the size of a person’s rotund arse but never for a minute considered going up and sparking up a conversation with ‘how big is your arse exactly?’ ‘Hmm, wow, I know someone with an arse twice as big as yours!’ Why do they always want to tell you they have a tall friend? Is that like a homophobe saying they have a gay friend or a white supremacist saying they have a black one? Does it make their height-based transgression permissible?

Then dickhead asks: ‘How tall is your husband?’ Now he’s assuming I’m married and a heterosexual. I say ‘Three foot five – she’s a dwarf. But she’s got a massive intellect.’

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