I was standing in Starbucks recently, looking forward to my peppermint mocha when I noticed this young woman standing next to me. She had flawless skin, the sort of smooth chestnut hair I’ve always craved, and was dressed in a trim wool suit with a silk orange scarf tied expertly around her neck.
She was elegance personified … and very tall.
To my surprise, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Standing next to her, I felt like a displaced hobbit, slightly sweaty and not nearly as well put together. At that very moment I wanted so badly to have this woman’s grace, her stature, her clothes.
The problem is I never would have been able to carry off an outfit like that, even if it had been purchased from Chanel.
My husband thinks my Napoleon complex is amusing. “It’s never going to happen,” he says of my desire to be a taller woman. Just like my curly hair, which turns into a brittle scouring pad on rainy days, my height is something I’ve never completely accepted about myself.
And yet, the world around me is always so quick to tell me how lucky I am.
“Men must love tiny women like you,” more than one female admirer has gushed. Not exactly, I want to say. There was that one guy I dated in Boston who informed me that I would be just perfect—if I were only a few inches taller.
And that other jerk from the more recent past, who grumbled to his friends that I had “permy-looking hair and was kind of SHORT.”
Tell me something I don’t already know.
To all you gals who yearn for a petite body, guess what. It’s not always great being under five feet tall. Aside from the obvious annoyances—having to watch your calories, getting your pants taken up by the neighborhood tailor—there are more subtle problems that crop up.
People tend to respect you less when you’re small. It’s as if they look at you and think you’re this adorable little creature that can be stomped on at regular intervals. Because you’re so gosh darned small, there’s not much damage you can inflict on them … other than punching them in the ankle.
This is probably why little people adopt these big, angry personalities and roar back at a world that seems to be laughing at them all the time.
Here’s what happens when you’re small and female. People will pat you on the head, long after you’ve reached your twenties. They’ll tell you how “cute” you are—and make you feel as if you’re still three years old with a giant bow on your head. Big men will sit next to you on the subway and spread their legs far apart, knowing they can afford to crush you. Big women will stare at you resentfully and, if you’re in the workforce with them, will take their hostility out on you.
As I was once rushing to a meeting, this public relations flack whom I’d only had an email relationship with, went up to introduce herself. “My, you are a tiny little thing!” she exclaimed. I looked at her in amazement, wondering if she would have made such a personal, unprofessional comment to a six-foot-tall man.
I’ve noticed that friends and family members aren’t quick to apologize when they’ve hurt my feelings. Even though I can’t prove it, I wonder if my height plays into this, that I’m just too small and insignificant to apologize to.
My height has become my crutch, my explanation for everything bad that happens to me.
And there’s nothing more annoying than a WHINY, defensive small person, is there? My behavior is essentially validating Randy Newman’s song, “Short People Have No Reason to Live.”
If Napoleon complex is taking over my life, perhaps I should take a cue from that former military leader of France, and gain a few inches of confidence.
I can pull off a wool Chanel suit and a silk orange scarf. I know I can.
I may have to get the pants hemmed first, though.
Hear me roar.