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You Must Be This Tall To Ride

December 2, 2009
I am a tall woman.  This realization first dawned on me in elementary school, when I was continually placed in the back row during class pictures; I received news from my doctor each year that I was, yet again, in the 99th percentile; my first memories of slow dances were of trying desperately to slouch even just an inch or two.  The clues were everywhere. 
But what it meant to be tall, as a woman and as a feminist, I was still yet to figure out. 

As a tall woman, I know I’m not in bad company.  At the White House State Dinner recently, Michelle Obama reminded us of her lovely 5’10” stature by dwarfing poor Prime Minister Singh; Cecile Richards, the fearless feminist leader of Planned Parenthood, is also a lanky 5’10”; then there’s the spunky Olive Oyl (who is still my favorite Halloween costume to date), and the list goes on.   

But being tall as a woman challenges what it means to be a woman, providing hardships emotionally, romantically, and even physically.  I couldn’t have said it much better myself than in this excellent piece by Rebecca Thomas, a 6’4” journalist, who summed up the silly, hurtful and great parts of being tall in the New York Times last year. 

I’ve found that being tall can challenge your sense of femininity (Oh, I can crush a lilliputian village with my foot step?).   Cultural icons like “man hands” from “Seinfeld” and “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” perpetuate the notion that the larger the woman the less womanly she becomes.

Being a tall woman makes you vulnerable to the hoi polloi.  You literally stick out, and people feel free to make comments.  I’ll estimate that I’ve gotten at least 1,500 comments about my height in my life so far.  Some are complimentary but many are just inane.  “Has anyone ever told you that you’re tall?” (Freshmen year at college in my dorm elevator)  Um…

I’ve often taken it personally.   I suddenly feel very insecure, and just when I want to shrink into the wall flowers I’m reminded that I’m actually the person that wall flowers can hide behind. 

But more often, I don’t take it personally.  Functioning as a sore thumb, in a way, has made me understand better the insatiable curiosity of human nature and the continual search we all engage in to define and accept ourselves. 
Despite the challenge it’s been to get there, I truly love being tall and as a woman it’s helped me to form my feminist identity.  I can’t blend in so I have to own sticking out. 
And I also like to think that in my own little way I’m helping to challenge gender norms.  My existence says “no, all women are not all small, cute, dainty, and containable.  Sometimes we don’t all fit gracefully into sports cars, and sometimes we can dunk better than you can.” 

Being a lengthy lady affords some unique benefits and significant challenges from a feminist perspective. 

For instance I once had a guy tell me that it was so nice not to have to look down to talk to a woman, and that he respected me more because of it.  Thanks…I guess?

Sometimes I’ll spot another tall woman across the subway car.  We’ll lock eyes in a look of mutual understanding and appreciation. Yeah, sister, I know what it’s like…and it’s awesome. 

And no, I never played basketball.  In fact, I suck at basketball and I don’t want to be the cheer leader either.  But I will get you that hard-to-reach thing on that very high shelf, and I will feel empowered and proud to be a woman while I’m doing it.

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