I am six feet tall.
These are five very simple words. They’re also words that I find myself saying pretty frequently. But even though I’ve been six feet tall for several years now, these words haven’t always come easily for me.
Ever since I hit my growth spurt the summer before 8th grade (and was suddenly about eight inches taller than most of my peers), I’ve dealt with insecurities about my height. Admittedly, most of it had to do with boys. My gangly, awkward teenage self was convinced that she would never find her Prince Charming when all the available boys were repulsed by her giant-like stature.
I’ve gained a bit more perspective since then. At 22, I can say that I’ve mostly overcome my insecurities about my height – but it wasn’t an easy process. Even now, those five words feel slightly heavy as I try to nonchalantly toss them into a conversation. I wonder if whatever oblivious acquaintance they’re directed toward can see past my confident tone to the layers of resentment, awkwardness and insecurity that rest beneath.
Before I come off sounding like a melodramatic heap of self-pity, I’d like to make it clear that I am aware this is a minor problem, as problems go. But it’s nevertheless one that I’ve been dealing with for most of my life, and it got me thinking: why is it that I found it so difficult to accept my above-average height? Do other women care so much about height in relationships? And why can’t we all just get over it?
Blame it on instinct
It seems a little silly when you think about it. How can something as seemingly trivial as a few inches of height (or lack thereof) matter so much?
As with many things, some of it’s instinctual. Life coach and relationship expert Patrick Wanis says that being attracted to height is a universal human trait. “It really goes back to part of our primitive instincts,” he says. “A person who was tall usually also represented someone who was strong.”
Another aspect is emotional. That warm, protected feeling that you get when you’re wrapped up in the arms of your boyfriend, burying your face in his chest, creates a sense of emotional security. “Women…want to feel ‘protected,’ says dating coach Patti Feinstein. “The height difference is psychological, but gives the feeling of it.”
That’s not to say that every female highly values height in a man. We all have different traits that we look for in a potential relationship. “I've never been particularly attracted to tall guys,” says Rebekah, a senior at Ohio University. “For some reason, just a few inches taller than I am is more ideal than a guy who is 6'2".”
But even when your logical mind knows that height shouldn’t matter, it’s possible your unconscious mind is telling you that that tall, dark and handsome hunk will protect you from saber-toothed tigers and help you raise strong, healthy babies. Some women even recognize this instinct at work. “I tend to view smaller men as being somewhat weak or even passive, although I know this isn't always the case,” says Brynn, a senior at Columbia University.
The social pressure
But let’s be real. We’re modern, educated women who should be able to silence our inner cavewoman when we know that a killer sense of humor and a kind heart should trump a few extra inches, right?
So why do people still have trouble letting go of this notion that the man should be the taller one in a relationship? Thanks partly to our instincts and largely to the media, the image of a tall man with a shorter woman has become a social norm that many people feel uncomfortable breaking. “I think guys should always be the taller ones in the relationship, because men are traditionally supposed to be taller and stronger,” says E.W., a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill.
But this is where it can get confusing for women. The ideal model of physical beauty that we see throughout the media is a tall, thin, model-like woman with long legs. As much as tall women like me battle insecurities about their height, shorter women often battle insecurities because they don’t feel like they live up to this attractive ideal. “I feel like my height detracts from my attractiveness, because my height is relatively short compared to the average,” says Di, a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Combine this with the social pressure to be shorter than your boyfriend, and it puts women in a tough spot: “You should be tall and long legged so that you’re attractive to the opposite sex,” is the message we get from society, “…but just make sure that you’re not too tall.”
Emily, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, has noticed this strange dichotomy. “I think a tall girl's height that can be a turn off for guys that are not as tall as them. That's why I often won't wear heels when going out,” she says. “But on the other hand, feeling tall is nice sometimes, since being tall is usually considered more modelesque.”