My life as an extremely tall woman

By Claire Swinarski

This summer was the season of marriage for my group of friends. Practically every one of us tied the knot, and I had the honor of standing up in several weddings. But when I saw the photos from one of my best friend’s nuptials, I winced as I looked at our group shots. There, in the row of bridesmaids, is me—sticking out, standing above, screwing up the vibe.This is pretty typical, because I’m tall. Very tall. 6’2”, to be exact. My entire family is tall; when we walk into a room, you notice. I’ve been this way nearly my whole life—after an intense sixth-grade growth spurt, I became the tallest girl in every room. Needless to say, group pictures are not my favorite thing.

Pop culture perpetuates the myth that being tall is something everyone wants. Supermodels and athletes are tall—why wouldn’t you want to look like Kendall Jenner? But we’re not all waif-like fairies with long, elegant legs and modeling contracts. Some of us are just average klutzes who can’t walk and Instagram simultaneously. We’re never the cute, small girls that get hoisted onto guys’ shoulders at high school football games. We’re never the petite girls who look adorable on the dance floor rocking out to Kanye. As journalist Ann Friedman, a fellow 6’2” woman, wrote in New York Magazine, “Women are supposed to be dainty things who are, if not exactly tiny, at least smaller than men.” A tall woman shatters societal norms, whether she wants to or not. She’s often just desperate to find a jacket that extends to her wrists.

From my extremely high vantage point, I don’t believe most women actually want to be tall. Okay? There it is. When my (many) short acquaintances ask me to reach for something on a high shelf, or giggle about how they’re just so small, I don’t believe they are envious in the slightest. They’re simply reminding themselves that they are cute, petite, and feminine—and reminding me that I am an oaf.

Being tall comes with a host of annoyances. It isn’t easy, no matter how simple Taylor Swift makes it seem. There are, of course, not-a-big-deal annoyances. Buying jeans isn’t easy (but who does find buying jeans easy)? Airplanes are not pleasant places for me, but I don’t think many people think planes are very comfortable. I never wear high heels, but really, that’s more of a blessing than a curse. Being taller than all of the boys in high school wasn’t fun, but I’m now married to the world’s nicest (and a very tall) man, so those scars have pretty much healed.

But there are deeper annoyances, too. Sitting in front of someone in a crowded movie theater and hearing them sigh, frustrated, like you’re a jerk for not considering their poor short feelings. Having random strangers casually ask you your height (something Friedman noted in her New York Mag piece, too), as if statistics about your body are any of their business. It may not be acceptable in polite society to walk up to someone and ask them how much they weigh, but if I had a dollar for every time someone asked how tall I was, I could start my own clothing line of shirts with long enough sleeves for my arms. There are also those dreaded group pictures, where no less than three petite girls will turn to me, say “tall people in the back,” and laugh while sorority squatting.

I was already headed to the back, idiot, and I will step on the next person who says that to me.

Sometimes you just want to blend with the group. To not look awkward in the wedding party photo. Because ultimately, my experience as a tall women is about more than someone’s Facebook cover photo. It’s about feeling too big—and not just for pictures. It’s about taking up too much space. Our culture continually reinforces the message that women are supposed to be small, and while this message often gets translated to thin, I don’t think we collectively realize how much it also translates to height. In 2014, The Atlantic asked, “Must Every YA Action Heroine Be Petite?“ in a piece exploring how Divergent’s Tris Prior, The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, and other heroes we offer teenage girls tend to be scrawny and diminutive. Anna Kendrick, America’s Sweetheart, describes herself as being “very very small” in her Twitter bio. You do you, Anna. I’m so glad you’re comfortable in your body and proud of your stature. But I’d like us, as a culture, to realize how often the tiny are elevated and idolized, at the expense of celebrating a diverse range of body types. For outliers like me, you begin to feel like you’re not just too big for wedding pictures—you’re too big for life.

When I was young, one of my favorite books was The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake. It’s about a seventh grader who struggles with the color of her skin and finding her identity while everyone around her seems to think there’s something wrong with her. I am a cis white woman, a cultural privilege I recognize—and obviously, skin color is a lot more complicated than height and carries an ugly history of discrimination. But in the protagonist’s struggle for self acceptance, I recognized a sliver of my own marginalized experience. The book gave me strength to withstand the alienation I faced, and became a sort of talisman I’d come back to through the years.

I have broad shoulders and no biceps. I have pretty eyes. My hair doesn’t hold a curl, but it doesn’t get super frizzy, either. And I’m tall, probably taller than you, taller than average, long-legged, and long-armed—and that is the skin I’m in.

After many years of struggling to blend in, I’m slowly beginning to accept, if not celebrate, my height. To recognize that I am allowed to take up space and sit wherever the hell I want in a movie theater. To answer strangers’ probing questions with a look that makes it clear they’re the weirdos. I can be tall and fun, tall and pretty, tall and a part of whatever group I’m with. It took me years to realize that being tall didn’t mean I wasn’t beautiful or feminine—it just meant I would always be asked to grab things off the top shelf.

We’re all born with physical attributes that will never change, no matter how hard we pray they will. One strange-looking photo, which isn’t even my wedding photo—shouldn’t make me cringe. It isn’t going on my mantle, and if my friend didn’t love me and want me in her photos, she wouldn’t have asked me to stand by her side. I’m beginning to recognize that spending even five seconds harping on the ways I don’t fit in is a complete waste of brainpower.

I don’t have a radical solution to how to fix height stereotypes. I haven’t even perfected a way of getting strangers to stop asking me about my own stature. Maybe we should all just comment less on each other’s bodies in general. Or instead of faux-complimenting my height, people could ask me about my thoughts on the Syrian Civil War or the latest terrible movie remake or what I’m having for lunch. But I do know that, going forward, instead of slouching to fit into photos, I will throw back my shoulders and stand up straight. I will celebrate the skin I’m in.

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