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Why being 6ft 2in tall makes it hard to be a woman

Jes Fernie has never fitted in to society’s idea of a typical female. Now her daughter’s height is shooting up, will she face the same problems?

As a teenager, I lived on a prostitutes’ beat. Walking home in my school uniform was an exciting affair. I wasn’t in the slightest bit sexy – I attracted a niche market of desperate men looking for absurdly tall, spotty women dressed as schoolgirls. I never felt remotely threatened. The drivers were profusely apologetic when I explained that I was walking home from school.

As a 6ft 2in woman, I have been able to monitor, on a daily basis, the extent of society’s limited parameters of what it is to be female. Now that my daughter is fast approaching my height, I am looking at the situation anew, scratching around for any signs of progress. Will she be called “sir” with the regularity of a finely tuned clock? Will she be mistaken for a transvestite and nearly beaten up in a dark Manchester side street? Will she be offered sex in Soho (“Looking for a good time, mate?”) or be asked if she is a model (“A model what? A model citizen? Certainly not an aeroplane”). Will she have to cross to the other side of the road late at night when walking behind a woman who thinks she is a man? (The mental gymnastics!)

But let’s go back a bit. It is 1985. I am 15 and living in Edinburgh. I walk into a barbershop and take my place in a row of men and boys waiting to be shorn. When my turn comes, I ask the slightly ageing barber to give me a flattop (all the rage in those days among the boys). I am pretty certain he has never cut a girl’s hair, but I am also pretty certain he doesn’t know I am a girl. I am wearing a black poloneck jumper, black jeans and smart black suede winklepickers. I have no boobs and no hips. When he is finished, I look like a pencil. I look incredible. Something neither male nor female; a pale, sullen, chisel-boned, androgynous entity. It was clear to me then that my experience of being female was in direct contrast to almost every female around me.

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