'Tall Women in Clogs' Busts Stereotypes About Height, Gender And More

"Being tall makes you stand out in most groups. As with any kind of difference you have to learn to own it."

Maddie Crum
Books and Culture Writer, The Huffington Post

When Jessica Goldschmidt was five years old, she was put in a swimming group at day camp with a bunch of kids twice her age. She was taller than the average child, so her strength was assumed to be on par with the older campers. But, the current was stronger than her athletic abilities, and she struggled to stay afloat, nearly drowning.

Though her height hasn’t had quite as dire an impact on her personality since then, its influenced her work as a theatre artist. Along with three other tall women, she co-created, choreographs for and performs in "Tall Women in Clogs", a funny, feminist take on how height can shape a woman’s identity in America.

Goldschmidt met Sophie Shackleton and Katherine Cooper at Brown University while performing for a student production of "The Rocky Horror Show". After graduating, the three women moved to New York City, where they teamed up with Madeline Wise to create "Tall Women in Clogs", a variety show involving dance, physical theater and circus, which sold out on its first run. The troupe recently campaigned on Kickstarter to bring their work to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.

"Tall Women in Clogs is an ethos, an attitude", they wrote on their Kickstarter page. “It’s a way of looking at ourselves, the world, and our bodies in the world as four 20-something women who take up more space than average.”

Below, Goldschmidt, Shackleton, Cooper and Wise discuss their play, their height, the Rockettes, and the woes of middle school dances.

Do you think being tall is an integral part of your identity?

Madeline Wise: In general my height is something that I feel doesn't define me. I'd always prefer that I am defined by nonphysical traits, because those are the traits I can control and cultivate.

Sophie Shackleton: It affects my feelings of femininity deeply. But it also makes me feel very capable, and older than my age much of the time, and is a great asset for leadership and confidence in many parts of life, too.

Jessica Goldschmidt: On a family vacation when I was five, I was so tall they placed me in a day camp group with the eight to 10-year-olds. I almost drowned because the undertow was too strong. So for me, early on, being tall became almost literally a matter of life and death.

Katherine Cooper: Absolutely.

You discuss a few of the woes of tall women on your Kickstarter -- that others expect you to be stronger than you are, for instance. Which of these misconceptions do you struggle with the most?

MW: I think the bit about being tougher than you are, probably. I've had a lot of people project stoicism onto me simply because I'm physically above the sturm und drang.

SS: I struggled with weight as a kid, so that is strongly related to my feelings about “bigness." I’m no longer overweight, but because of my height, I’m realizing that I will always feel like I still am “too large.” As I get older, I’m much more interested in embracing femininity and vulnerability. I’m full of those things too, perhaps even more because of my size, and I’m less scared of showing that.

JG: For me, it's this ideal that a tall woman is an outlier, that she must be either a) ungainly/"unfeminine" or b) supermodel/Rockette material -- ogres or sex objects, and not much in between

KC: I definitely struggle to share my vulnerability with people. I'd say that's probably true of a lot of people. But I think being tall exacerbates that feeling because people do expect you to be stronger and more competent a lot of the time.

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