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.