I had occasion to engage in conversation with two younger women about their dating preferences. Both were relatively short. Both admitted that they liked tall men. Both laughed about how their tall women friends resented that their dating tall men unfairly reduced the pool of potential mates. One, however, went on to say that her latest boyfriend, apparently from South America originally, is short and she really liked him. Among other things, he was so much fun dancing.
Growing up, I never had this conversation. My experience was such that I didn’t really know the difference. My husband is six foot four and lanky. In those days, I was five foot two. The first time I became aware of his height as a problem occurred probably eight years after we were married and well settled in Toronto. At a big party in Forest Hill, a prominent Canadian journalist and activist who was (and is) one of my absolute heroes, met my husband for the first time and, in her typical forthright style, commented later that he was too tall for me. I was totally taken aback, and somewhat hurt. I didn’t have the wit to ask her why. Too bad. I did, however, ponder the issue. Thereafter, I noticed couples with a striking difference in their heights, and was reassured by the many examples of good marriages that did not depend on a common stature.
As a judge, I came to know a most engaging colleague who was a remarkably erudite reader. At our conferences, he would tell me the books he had most recently read, usually ones I had never heard of. Once I saw him sitting in the front row of the upper balcony at the 1920s vintage Winter Garden Theatre on Yonge Street. He was there for a lecture by academic and critic Camille Paglia, whom he said he had admired for years. I scarcely knew who she was. I later learned that erotica was his favourite literary genre. One day, he told me that my husband and I looked like the CN Tower and the SkyDome. Given the squat round curves of the SkyDome, I should have been insulted. I wasn’t. I was positively charmed, and have never forgotten his metaphor. But his image is intriguing. Could this have been what my journalist friend had in mind?
And then I have a male friend who obsesses about how short he is. And about how difficult it is for men who are short. Give me a break. He has more women friends of all ages in all different walks of life than any man I know. And, because of his generosity and love of people, he has more friends around the world whom he keeps in touch with and sees regularly. Besides, wasn’t Pierre Elliott Trudeau only five foot seven? There wasn’t a woman of his era, including his beautiful young wife Margaret Sinclair, the singer Barbra Streisand, and the hugely intelligent Deborah Coyne, who wasn’t attracted to him. And he was reputed to command the scene everywhere he went. Clearly, a “towering” figure.
I once read a newspaper column on heightism. Height restrictions were once commonplace in Canada, so much so that shorter women and persons from particular ethnic groups could not apply for many positions. Firefighters, police officers, the military, emergency personnel… all once specified minimum height requirements. According to the column, this is still the case in Communist China: school teachers, for example, must be five feet four inches tall, on the assumption that such height is required to exercise appropriate authority in the classroom. Just think of all those excellent Canadian teachers, including my mother, my sister, and thousands of others like them, who would not qualify.
So much for heightism. Although banned in law, does it continue in our personal lives? Apparently so. According to a post in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight this week, whining about height continues, although the author indicated that she had found a website “dedicated to men under 5’9″ (celebrities or otherwise) and the women who love them… ” which gave her hope that confident men who are short are out there.