At 5’1” she was small, which made her stand out, especially in the male-dominated profession of law where she devoted her life’s work. But still, hearing TV broadcasters say that “even though she was small, she was a giant in her field” sounded so cliche. A perfect example is this headline from Vogue — “Five Feet Tall But Towering Over All of Us: A Tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”
Am I the only one who thinks that’s weird?
When average-sized people die, you rarely hear mention how tall they were. Why was it so important for the media to point out her height? Because the world is surprised to see short women achieve greatness? (If that’s the case, our society is in real trouble!)
Perhaps this struck a nerve because I am also a short person and I have been thinking a lot lately about how much your height — something that you essentially have no control over — can impact your life.
SHORT AND SCRAPPY
While my stature is not something I choose to dwell on, I can’t ignore it either. I am presented with height-related predicaments every day like when something is out of reach or on a high shelf, which happens every morning when I’m putting away the dishes. (I know tall cabinets add more space to a kitchen, but for short people, they just mean hassle.)
But I didn’t wake up one day to discover: “What happened?!?! OMG, I’m short!” I’ve always been the smallest, at every stage of my life — lining up in height order for graduation or standing in the front row for pictures — so at 42, being short is nothing new.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that my whole life has been a series of obstacles to overcome. Not metaphorically either. For example, if there’s an item I need on top of the refrigerator, all my 6-foot-tall husband has to do is reach his arm a little to get it down. For me, I have to drag a chair from the kitchen table, place it in front of the fridge, climb up, get the item, place it down, then put the chair back. It takes me four steps to accomplish what only takes him one. It might sound like a silly example, but imagine if a seemingly simple task takes twice the steps — and then apply that to your entire life. No wonder I am feisty and scrappy — I have to work harder or come up with different approaches to get most things done.
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
Being a short mom comes with its own set of challenges. Literally, all the fifth graders at our elementary school are taller than me. So pretty much, I’m the size of today’s average 10 year old.
My husband and his whole side of the family are tall. This means the conversation about height comes up A LOT during family gatherings. My sister-in-law, her husband, and three boys are all super tall, and it’s always a big deal how much they’ve grown. They are healthy kids and considering their genetics, it’s not really surprising that they have height on their side. What’s funny to me is that the topic of height almost never comes up during gatherings on my side of the family, because, for the most part, none of my relatives are very tall.
But I suppose hearing others talk about being tall frustrates me a little because it’s framed in a way that being tall is good, but being short is seen as a disadvantage.
My seven-year-old daughter’s annual doctor appointment showed that she’s in the 60th percentile for height on her growth chart. When I saw this, my initial thought was jubilant, “I hope that it’s always that way for her!” Then my second thought was immediately, “Wait, what? Why did you think that?!? That’s messed up!” But seriously, why was I glad that she’s on track to be tall? Maybe it’s because I want her life to be easier than mine, so she can avoid the stigma of being short or won’t have to experience the hurdles that short people often encounter?
Whatever the reason, I realized how short-sighted I was, least of all because people come in all shapes and sizes and these differences need to be embraced and a variety of perspectives need to be celebrated. Also, I was falling into the same trap by projecting a belief in our culture that being tall means being better, and of all people, I should know better than that.
Instead of looking down on being short, I am reminded that there are many benefits to being vertically-challenged. For starters, most people think you are younger than you are, so getting carded well into your 30s makes you feel pretty good. Traveling is also easier when you’re small, whether it’s riding in the back seat of a car, flying on an airplane, using an airplane bathroom, or curling up on the seat on a long bus ride. And you never have to worry about hitting your head on those pesky door frames.
So let’s raise a glass (but not too high!) to all the shorties out there. For all the concerts we missed because tall people have to stand right in the front row. For all the times we had to use a step stool. For the never-ending quest to find pants that fit. I feel your pain. But let’s get out there and remind the world that, just like RBG, small people can accomplish big things too!