On The Social Constructs Surrounding Tall Women

By Ryann Dannelly

There’s no hiding from your height, especially when you’re an exceptionally tall woman.

When I say tall, I’m referring to the women that have to buy their clothes mostly online or wear everything three-quarter-length style and pull it off as a fashion statement.

I’m 6’2’. People have told me that height shouldn’t matter, and in the grand scheme of life, it doesn’t. Height doesn’t shape personality; it doesn’t affect the way we treat others. It has no bearing on our career, or anything really.

But that doesn’t mean that I—like most tall women—am still not consciously aware of my height at all times, as well as the implications associated with that height.

The average American man is 5’10 while the average woman is 5’4. When you’re a woman whose height exceeds the average male height, that statistic stings just a little bit.

By the time I was a junior in high school, I had become consciously aware of my height.

I learned the art of crouching down in photos to keep my head at the same level as everyone else, trying my best to make the poses natural. For any group photo session, I quickly learned that my position was in the back row. Regardless of how fantastic my outfit was at the time, it was never going to make it into the photos.

I tried brushing off these moments, like being continually shoved to the back didn’t bother me. It was the logical placement. But it did bother me. I would position myself in the back row, uttering some joke at the expense of my height. If I made the joke first, then no one else could.

It became the norm for people to draw attention to my height, in case I wasn’t already fully aware. In fact, I found my femininity questioned on multiple occasions, strictly because of my height.

One of those mortifying moments was during a high school physics class. The guy next to me had just finished describing how he planned on asking his girlfriend to the prom. With complete sincerity, he then asked what my plans were. When I asked what he meant, I received this bashful reply:

“Well, you play for the other team.”

He was wrong. I asked why he thought that.

“Because of your height, you know? You’re taller than the guys, so I just thought.”

He just thought. I was beyond embarrassed, and I hadn’t even done anything wrong.

It’s a baffling notion to think that one’s height correlates with either their femininity or sexuality.

Since then, my height has only continued to play a role in ways that an average-sized woman is not affected. I paid my way through college by playing Div. I basketball, using my height in a system where extreme size was sought after and valued.

For the first time, I learned to be proud of my height.

Other young women with extreme height surrounded me on the team. I no longer stood out. I wasn’t alone. By watching the way they acted, I realized that there was no shame in being a tall woman. Height didn’t define any of us. My confidence grew, for I no longer felt isolated because of something I couldn’t change.

But now that I’ve left the context of college athletics, height is once again ever-prevalent, especially in the dating world.

Social conventions have led the majority of people to believe that men should be taller than women in relationships. There’s even a name for it: the “male-taller norm.” It was a term coined by researchers Ellen Berscheid and Elaine Walster Hatfield in 1973.

Think about it under the constructs of how heterosexual couples are depicted in movies and TV. There’s this unspoken rule that the male lead has to be taller, or at least as tall, as their female costar. When a male actor is shorter, the scenes tend to be filmed using various angles and cover-ups techniques to make the male appear taller.

What message is that sending?

This idea that men have to be taller than women in relationships persists in part because the media projects couple after couple that perfectly fit in with this model.

But where does that leave tall women?

I’m consciously aware of not only my height, but of the heights of everyone around me. Our society has trained my subconscious to think under the male-taller norm. It’s the reason why a certain amount of insecurity still exists for me in the dating front.

Now I know that one shouldn’t date someone because of their appearance, but that doesn’t mean that looks don’t play a part.

During my freshmen year at college, a tirade of whispering gossip ensued after one of my hallmates began dating a guy three inches shorter than her. She was 5’11’’. People felt the need to comment on how strange the couple looked because they didn’t comply with the mold.

There’s a double standard on the dating spectrum.

Most men would rather date women shorter than them, and that’s viewed as socially acceptable. But when women—especially tall women—say they would rather date men taller than them, they’re suddenly viewed as superficial for not going past looks.

It’s not tall women’s fault for striving to have what everyone else has. This idea that men have to be taller than women in relationships is ingrained in our minds.

Sadly, it’s ingrained in me, too. The thought of dating a man four inches shorter than me isn’t appealing, which is part of the problem.

So how do tall women break through their personal and societal height related boundaries?

Part of it has to come internally. Tall women, including me, need to be fully embracing their height. Height is unchangeable. Height doesn’t define someone. Shying away from your height or making a joke about it—like I’ve done before—isn’t going to fix anything.

We cannot begin to tackle the male-taller norm until, as tall women, we’re confident with ourselves.

But another part of the change has to come from the media’s depiction of male and female costars. If the female is indeed taller, the objective in the framing of scenes shouldn’t be to cover up that height differentiation. It shouldn’t be the focus, either. It should simply exist without the need for manipulation.

Films are beginning to take steps in the right direction.

“The Hunger Games” series has not shied away from the fact that Jennifer Lawrence is three inches taller than her costar Josh Hutcherson. But more importantly, the films have not made a huge point in emphasizing their heights.

That’s key. The focus in a relationship, whether it’s in real life or on screen, should not be how the two people compare when standing back to back.

We shouldn’t feel the need to shy away from, hide, or manipulate extreme female height, like it’s something to be ashamed of. Women should embrace their height. Be confident. If we become comfortable with our heights, then the social constructs of the male-taller norm can be broken.

Embrace your height, for height does not define you.

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About Ryan

Me Take2Ryann Dannelly is a 22-year-old writer, living in Maryland.  While attending the University of Richmond, she studied English, journalism, and creative writing. When she wasn’t sweating her way up and down the basketball court, she could usually be found in her second home on campus: the library. Currently, she’s shopping around her young adult contemporary novel about a teenager balancing freshmen year with Div. I college basketball. Her blog can be found at ryanndannelly.blogspot.com. Come and say hello!

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