The weather up here

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I don't know how wide the coverage of this was, so you may already know it, but the world's tallest woman, Sandy Allen, died last week. She was 7 feet 7 inches tall. She was 53 years old.

Sandy Allen was so tall due to a pituitary imbalance. She reached 6 feet before her tenth birthday. If she had not had surgery to stop her growth, she may have gotten even taller.

Sandy Allen was, to many people, whether they'd say it or not, a freak. Not only did her condition threaten her health, but it crippled her social life. People stared at her, were rude to her, treated her like she wasn't a woman, or even a human being.

And folks, it does trickle down. This weekend, The Guardian ran a piece by Arianne Cohen about being a 6'3" woman. Though the piece is ultimately (surprise!) about accepting yourself the way you are, it's not the self-affirming part that struck me. It's this:

The true challenge of tall life is not that you're tall. Who cares about that - legs are legs. The challenge is that everyone can see you, all the time. Eyes follow everywhere you go. You're public. On display. There is no hiding. Learning to love yourself has nothing to do with the blather you see in women's magazines about treating your body as a temple - it's learning to accept the high-wattage spotlight that came packaged with your body, always shining on you. I can tell you what it feels like to resist: like a non-performer pushed on stage, day after day. The giraffe in the room.

This is, nearly exactly, how I've felt for much of my life. It was certainly the way I felt as a 5'9" pre-teen, being hit on by adult men who (I suppose) assumed I was full grown. It was how I felt as a teenager, nearing 6 feet tall and constantly being asked about playing basketball, playing the piano, or, on occasion, modeling. When a short dude I went to high school with dubbed me the "Gentle Giant," the spotlight burned. And, briefly, in my late teens and early 20s, I learned to enjoy that spotlight--especially when I learned, like Cohen, that being tall meant that it took forever for the beer to show up on my belly and I could wear almost any clothes I liked (as long as they weren't intended to be full-length) and never look dumpy.

Now, at nearly 30, I can't honestly say I wouldn't rather be shorter. If I could change my height, I still probably would, by at least a couple of inches, just for comfort and ease why flying. But I don't feel like I'm being stared at much anymore. I don't know if that's because tall women have become so much more prevalent, or because people's manners have improved (ha), or just because I move so much differently in my body now. But I don't feel freaky anymore.

What is interesting, though, is that I am still, by definition, kind of freaky. The average non-Hispanic white American female 20+ years old from 1999-2002 (as per the CDC) is 163 centimeters tall, or about 5' 3 1/2". This makes me 8 1/2" taller than average. Less than 1% of women in the U.S. are as tall or taller than me. To put that in perspective, someone 8 1/2" shorter than the average woman would be 4'7", and would be considered a Little Person by most definitions. Which certainly puts things in perspective for me. As difficult as I sometimes find being a couple of standard deviations above the mean, I bet being the same number of standard deviations below it would be much tougher.

In most things, it is simply easier to be average. You have the option of blending in. Things are made to suit you, Clothes come in your size, you don't have to special order your shoes, you can reach most things but you don't have to fold yourself in half to get into a compact car. And the benefits--well, I don't feel the need to dress like a sexpot anymore, and the beer finally caught up with even my belly, so those are out. Being able to reach things is all well and good, but I can't whip up that much enthusiasm for it. If you are, like me, neither model nor athlete, being tall really isn't beneficial in any concrete way. Still, it's who I am. It's who I have always been. And the really horrifying thing, to me, about Cohen's article was her discussion of the estrogen therapy her mother took (and offered to her) in order to stunt her growth. Being tall may not be all that useful, but it isn't something of which to be ashamed, either. And it's better, once you realize that.

After all, it is hard to hide.

6 Comments

I'm glad you wouldn't want to change you. I wouldn't want to change you either, you're beautiful.

I'm 5' 10". I never really realize how tall that is for a woman until I'm talking with a group of other homeschooling friends and I become conscious at some point that I am least an entire head higher than they are. I tower over them.

I don't feel awkward, but I do know that in a crowd I will easily see over the tops of heads to see to the front.

My husband is a couple of inches shorter than I am and that barely occurs to us either.

Tall is beautiful! As is short, and round, and pencil thin... you get the idea.

Lovely post!

I too am 6' tall. I don't notice it most days. My husband is 6'7" so the adult I'm closest too each day I am towered over by.

Oh man, though, I would absolutely shrink myself if I could for NO other reason that for the ease of buying clothing. It's getting much easier (and I hope that by the time our two daughters are teenagers it will be even easier!) but still, it's annoying. I order everything online.

I'm about average. But my sister is 5'10" and has hated that forever. She slouches horribly and it's such a habit that she can't stop. It's a bummer because she'd look a lot better if she didn't.

My sister-in-law is 6'3". She's tall and proud and stands up straight and looks great. Wears heels too. Yeah - she's always noticed, but she carries it off with aplomb. I think it's largely her parents who love and encourage her to death - awesome.

The tallest person I've ever seen was when I lived in Utah. We called her the really really tall girl, she must have been over 7 feet tall. She would come to the bar (yes, 'the' bar) and dance when there were bands. She was (and I assume still is) beautiful.

I'm not tall, only slightly above average, but I do stick out whenever I open my mouth- I'm American and live in France. And so as soon as I start talking people know I'm American and I'm tired of sticking out! And it's not exactly like I can stop talking either...

Interesting post! I'm curious whether there are differences in average height in different geographic regions. I've heard the 5'3" statistic before, and it just blows my mind. I'm 5'7" and have never thought of myself as taller than average. Also, my two closest friends are both six foot tall, but I can't think of a single woman I know who is under five feet.

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