This is pure self-indulgence – I know there are many tall people who would like to be shorter, fat who would like to be thinner, old who would like to be younger, and perhaps the vice versas. And what about those who are shunned for race, sexuality, illness? That is far more grave. But we all have our own “isms”, and perhaps being able to recognise them would help us to imagine, and feel, those of others; or even to see the impossibility of doing so. I can’t imagine being tall and big, of not fitting into spaces, and although I think it might be great, I’m sure I would be writing now about tallism, were that the case. But these differences amongst us are serious, and can lead to suffering and misunderstanding, albeit on a widely varying scale.
I am short. I am a little bit over five foot, and unlikely to grow at this stage. I have always seen things from lower down. My mother is short, but my father and his sisters all quite tall, so I was optimistic in my youth, to little avail. I then nobly married a man of six foot two in an altruistic attempt to bestow height on my daughters. Retrospectively this was a mistake, as they now all look down on me.
Being a short woman may be easier than being a short man, given society’s norms. Buying clothes can be trying, depending on the seasonal fashions. Cropped trousers, for example, are great for the vertically challenged, as they’re just trousers. But I am a bit indignant – all these plus sized models are great, but what about the minus sized ones? Where are they? Weight gain can also be a problem – lovely to be petite, but it doesn’t take too much to morph you into a wee porker, which is a difficult look to dress. I have often gazed enviously at the tall and voluptuous.
It can also be hard to be taken seriously, especially as a doctor. It may well be less of a man’s world than in the past, but some people still seem surprised that I’m the doctor – or even the boss. It was worse when I was younger, but it’s insulting even now. I always smile, but it’s through gritted teeth. I do feel I lack gravitas, though, particularly when I sit on a seat and my feet don’t reach the floor. Or when I venture into the kitchen (unusual admittedly) and can’t reach the higher shelves. I fantasise about being tall for a day, and it’s really quite hard to imagine. Things would be smaller, cuter, I would probably bump into them and complain even more loudly. But I think that if I were taller, then people would see me differently – they wouldn’t have to bend down, for one. This is why I prefer sitting down – it’s not just laziness, I feel far more equal, and I can look people in the face rather than the armpit.
Sometimes, of course, I meet people who are shorter than me, and it’s quite odd; but it makes me realise what it’s like for others with me. I bend down slightly, I am far more aware of their hair, and I can even feel slightly awkward. It’s a whole different angle.
As a psychiatric patient, I think my height has led to me at times feeling infantilised. I can’t say whether this is entirely in my head or not, but the danger is that I may become more child-like in my behaviour, or see others as stronger and more in charge, neither of which is beneficial. I’m sure my height is not the only issue, but it may have some unrecognised influence, as psychiatry is a discipline where control can play a major role, for either good or bad.
Going back to being a psychiatrist, one great advantage is that I don’t think I’m seen as much of a threat. I’ve hardly ever felt at risk, even though I work with an unpredictable patient group, and I think that being both female and short can give me quite an advantage. I would never be complacent about this, but it can make me feel safer.
I suppose the difficulty is that there is a norm for most things, and it’s harder the further you get away. I was even more aware of my stature on a visit to Norway, and am far less so when I’m in Glasgow. Sometimes I wish I’d lived in times gone by, when people were shorter and undernourished; but, let’s face it, I’d probably have been four foot something. It’s all relative. And at the risk of sounding rather foolish, you’ve got to be diverse in some way or other, or life would be really boring. It’s just that there’s nothing very noble or splendid about being short; I doubt many people are watching us shorties with secret envy, thinking – I want to be one of them!
I used to wear high heels, or wedges at least, and sometimes I still do, but less often now. This isn’t entirely down to my bunions, and perhaps I’ve actually got to the point in my life when it doesn’t really matter. I don’t feel small, though, and it’s always a surprise when I catch sight of myself in a mirror with someone taller. I can’t imagine my body taking up more space – yet what I feel is not what I see in others.
Insults can occasionally be thrown at the short amongst us, but are probably less troublesome than some. There is one that I will always look back at with fondness, scribbled on my door as a student by some dear friends – “Mighty Mouse”! I wasn’t so keen on the mouse bit, and I don’t think it was meant to be particularly complimentary, but the juxtaposition of those two words – well, I knew then that it was possible to be both.