I am 72 and a half inches tall.
Not that anyone’s counting.
Actually, that’s not true. Seems like everyone’s counting. And commenting.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I get a comment from a stranger on my height on a weekly basis.
Ranging from harmless:
“Wow. You’re tall!”
“How tall are you?”
“Do you play basketball?”
to more Really? You really just said that out loud to me?? comments.
“You’re so tall, you’re as big as a universe.” (From one of my students… good use of simile… don’t ever say that again.)
“That’s the biggest girl I’ve ever seen!” (Translated by a “friend” for me in Portuguese when I was in Brazil.)
“You’re pretty tall. I guess you only date guys taller than you?” (an attempt at a pick up line, I suppose??)
or this one that I overheard at Target a couple of weeks ago:
“Dude, that’s messed up!” (friend) “What?” “That girl’s like two feet taller than me!”
I am just over six feet tall, although various strangers have passionately disputed this, like the guy at a gas station who argued with me after asking how tall I was “No way. You are taller than that.” But undeniably, I am taller than most. It is noteworthy. It is, I think, what people notice most about me. At least as far as first impressions go.
Ever since I can remember, this– being tall– has been one of my biggest sources of insecurity, of shame. When the question gets asked “What’s the one thing you would change about yourself,” my mind jumps to my height. Every time I hear someone make a comment as I pass by them, every time someone gives me the up-down glance, every time there’s a group picture and I am told to head to the back, I cringe. It happens when I look at the pictures where I’m a head taller than everyone else, when I’m hugging shorter people and wonder if they fear I’ll crush them as I awkwardly squat down. With every comment from well meaning strangers, I feel this sickening mix of anger and shame in the pit of my stomach.
I somehow thought that body image was something I’d leave behind in junior high, and while I am much more comfortable in my own skin than I was as a gangly thirteen year old, the fact of the matter is that our bodies can be one of our biggest sources of shame. It’s part of being human.
Maybe you’re rolling your eyes– Allie, get over yourself. It could be a lot worse. Isn’t height admired in our culture?
Yeah, you’re probably right. And when I hear a tall comment, I know cognitively that it’s not meant as a negative thing, but when I hear it again and again and again, when I hear “tall” what I’m really hearing is abnormal, large, giant.
So this came up a couple of months ago when the guy I was dating mentioned that he felt self conscious about my height. “I’ve just never been with someone that’s the same size as me. It’s just… different.”
My first reaction was “Well of course. I feel weird about it, so it makes sense that you would too.” He was, and is, allowed to have his opinions and reactions to things. I appreciated his honesty.
But as I was driving home, the first tear slid down my cheek and the devastation set in. I realized I had been hoping that the person I was with would love that I was tall, and help me to overcome this insecurity. I thought that someone else’s acceptance would free me to accept it myself. I have long suspected that this quality in me has made men in my life uncomfortable and insecure and he just confirmed it. Well, that f***ing sucks.
When my pity party came to an end, I assessed the situation.
- I am not getting any shorter any time soon.
- It doesn’t look like people are going to stop noticing or commenting on my height either.
- I cannot rely on someone else to bring me to a place of self acceptance.
The only thing I can change in this situation is the power I am giving other people to affect my self image. I resolved to do the work, submitting to the process of not merely accepting myself, all 72.5 inches of me, but delighting in who I am and the way I was made.
Because, I don’t know about you, but it sometimes isn’t super helpful when well-intentioned people try to help me feel proud about my height, offering benefits of tallness, or reminding me that height is valued in our culture. A guy at a wedding once told me that I was slouching and that I should stand tall, and while I think it was meant as encouragement, it just made me neurotically self-conscious about my posture for months. No, it has become clear to me that I need to do this on my own terms.
I’m not entirely sure how to do this.. although, I don’t think it’s a formula or a 12 step process. It’s probably a long road of choosing, in the moment, to stop comparing, to be grateful, to not take myself so seriously, and to ask the people who ask if I play basketball if they play mini-golf.
Right now, I still feel a bit raw from that conversation a few months ago. I haven’t worn my one pair of high heels in months. I think of snarky comments to people’s comments on my height (but only after the moment has passed though… isn’t that always the case?) But I think coming to this realization is huge. Choosing to write about it and share it with you, dear reader, is a victory, and I am all about naming the moments of victory.
In the year 2015, I think I have been entering into the process of becoming a woman. Which sounds weird maybe, but hear me out. This revelation came on a different car ride, this past January (I always seem to have my epiphany moments on long car rides…) I was in this swirling storm of comparison and insecurity, painfully aware of how much I was basing my worth on my perceptions of others opinions of me. I felt this call to step away from that– to step into groundedness in who I am really. And then I wrote this poem, which is not something I do often, but it felt right. It has been a good anthem, and many times this year it has been a beautiful reminder. So I am sharing it with you.
I am a woman
confident and soft
elegant and untamed,
the Gentle Wild One.
I am a woman, steady and strong.
Still waters run deep
in a soul that is fed by
the Spring of Living Water.
Yet I will not apologize
or be afraid of my own humanity.
I refuse to be daunted by failure.
I will not shy away from the raw places,
for I am a woman.
Yes, I am a woman,
comfortable in my own skin.
In quiet confidence
I am able to Meet Their Gaze,
refusing to shrink away in fear
or strive to meet perceived expectations.
I am a woman:
a Truth Speaker,
a Beauty Bringer,
a Created Co-Creator.
My words carry weight,
they bring life
and the kind of hope that
diminishes the burden.
I am a woman, and I refuse
to be intimidated by the lie of comparison,
the whisper of shame and insecurity,
and I simply have no time for bullshit.
I am a woman,
and I am at home in the arms of
the Happy Trinity
I rest secure,
yet my hands clasp the hands of my sisters.
In connection and solitude
In the fray and in the stillness