Knowing Your Full Measure

A few years ago, a lady said to me, “Well, you’re so cute and tiny I could just pick you up and put you in my pocket.” I just stared at her, dumbfounded. I mean, how do you respond to a comment like that? So today, I’m calling out a bit of sexism that affects me personally.

I’m 5’2”, the same height as my Dutch-Irish grandmother and three to four inches taller than my Mexican grandmother. While it’s true that I secretly hoped to reach at least 5’4”, it’s also true that I don’t wake up every morning worrying that I’m “too short.” It generally doesn’t affect my day. If I have to get something off a top shelf, I grab a stool. No big deal.

In fact, there are times being on the shorter end of the spectrum is helpful. I don’t suffer as much as my husband in airline seats and I never have to duck under low-hanging lights. We all adapt, don’t we, to our environments?

The current average height of women worldwide is 5’3”. Since I’m technically five-foot-two-and-a-half inches, that means I’m only half an inch shorter than the average. Mother Teresa was 5’0”, Princess Diana was 5’11”, Oprah Winfrey is 5’7”, and Frida Kahlo was 5’3”. Is their height the first thing that comes to mind when you think of these powerful women? Did it actually affect their ability to make a difference in this world and inspire others?

I’ve often heard people say things like this about their grandmothers, “Can you believe someone so tiny could give birth to five kids?” Well, yes, I can. Women that size have been doing so for thousands of years.

I have female friends who are nearly six-feet tall and male friends who are not quite five-six. Do I notice their height? Sure. Just like I notice their hair color, eye color, and build. Would I describe them to others referring to their height? Maybe. But would I say, “You should meet her. She’s small but mighty.” Never! Please don’t.

Why am I bringing this up in a blog about art and personal creativity? Partly because I’m calling out my fellow artists, speakers, teachers, and presenters who are shorter in stature and asking them to stop feeding into the sexism by referring to or joking about their height on stage or in front of an audience. So what if they have to lower the mic for us, the technology works the same whether they lower the mic for us or raise it for the next speaker; so what if we choose to step out from behind the podium rather than looking like a head floating above it; so what if our feet dangle a bit in the chairs they put out for us, that makes us no less skilled, knowledgeable, or talented.

I occupy 5’2” of space in this world, but it’s mine. I’m gonna own it. I can wait patiently while you lower the mic, but if you don’t have to comment on it, neither do I.

Judging someone by their height, and that includes being impressed with them because of it, feeds into sexism. It feeds into the thought that women, who are on average six inches shorter than men, are somehow weaker, less qualified, even less smart. And that sexism hurts the men in our lives as well, the ones who are not as tall as their peers.

Am I saying you’ll never hear me joke about my height? Nope. I reserve the right. But it’s my right. Confused? Let’s make this easy . . . if you’re my friend and you know it’s okay to tease me about my height, go ahead. In a professional setting, though, if you wouldn’t bring up my weight or gray hairs, don’t bring up my height.

The average height of women in the U.S. in 1967, the year I was born, was 5’2”, the same height I am now. I stand on the shoulders of all the mighty women who, regardless of how they were built, came before me and worked to make this world better for women and men. Isn’t that what really matters?

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