Growing up in southern New Hampshire in the 80’s I distinctly remember thinking that I was the ultimate minority because I was short, Jewish and lefty. It’s laughable in retrospect, of course, because I was also white and middle class, but kids don’t operate with that type of perspective.
Here are a few thoughts on being short as I experience it now as a 40 year-old man. Perhaps I’ll write a bit about being lefty and Jewish another day, but shortness is really the trait that I still most persistently experience as emotionally troubling:
I’m not sure being short is something most short people ever completely make peace with, at least I don’t think I have. On one hand I feel very confident about myself and my abilities, but on the other hand, I’d be lying if I claimed to not still harbor insecurities about my size.
Society seems to value height. Take US Presidents for example. Of all 45 Presidents, I stand taller than only one, James Madison. I’m 5’5”. James Madison was 5’4”. He was first elected in 1808 by the way. The shortest President during my lifetime is Jimmy Carter, who is 5’9.5”.
When I stand in line at the store next to a larger man, I notice it. When I have a business meeting with a larger man, I instinctively have a sense of being less qualified. When I shake hands with a man and feel my hand enveloped within his, like a child’s, I feel a little insecure. When I drop the car off at the garage to be serviced and the attendant moves the seat so far back I would not be able to reach the pedals, I feel a little embarrassed. When I get into a debate with a larger man, I have an instinctive feeling that I should only press the issue so far, even if I know I’m right. When I see a larger man acting inappropriately, I want to step in but I feel a little scared. When a man once cat-called my wife while I was walking alongside her, I felt emasculated. When I see my children’s slow pace on the growth curve, I feel responsible.
And then there is the dynamic of my size relative to women. That’s another can of worms entirely. Yes, my wife is a bit taller than I am. I sometimes ask her to get the jar down from the top shelf because I can’t reach it, and something small inside me feels awkward about that.
I mostly ignore all of the above, but it’s all there in the background. It without question colors how I interact with the world and how I feel about myself during any given day. It’s ridiculous and stupid and a waste of emotional energy, and it’s real.
There is one exception. Flying!
When I sit down in my coach seat on a plane, especially a long haul flight, and I see all those big dudes squeezing into their seats with their knees in their chests…oh how I relish that little teeny tiny sense of satisfaction! Oh sweet revenge!
If only more of life could take place in small confined quarters. It would do wonders for my self-confidence.