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In praise of short men


Apr 13, 2024

Years ago I read a story. It seems a Vegas showgirl, who stood a stately 5-foot-11-inches in height, was regularly met at the stage door by a man who was barely 5-foot-6. He always brought a dozen roses and a charming smile, and would ask if she’d like to go to dinner with him. Concerned about their differences in height, she gently turned him down, over and over.

Undeterred, the man would appear evening after evening – not pushing or harassing, simply asking. Finally she said “yes,” and he took her out to dinner.

They had an astounding amount in common, fell in love and got married. At the time I read the story, they’d been married something like 20 years and couldn’t be happier.

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I’ve seen a similar story in action. One of my best friends from elementary school, Annette, was the daughter of Danish immigrants. She is tall and blond, with dazzling blue eyes. Annette grew and grew until she was 6 feet in height. We parted ways after high school, but kept in touch. She met a man from Morocco: dark, 15 years her senior, widowed and at least 10 inches shorter than she. My husband, Don, and I had moved to a different state by this point. I traveled back to my hometown to go to their wedding, where I met the groom for the first time. He was cheerful and outgoing, a truly joyous man. Later, when I showed my husband the wedding pictures I took, he asked, “She’s not standing on a box?” The height difference was truly amazing. Annette has been happily married to her groom for nearly 30 years now.

Another story: Don and I have some friends in Portland, Mike and Patricia. Both divorced from their first spouses fairly young, and they met each other in their 30s. She’s 5-foot-10, and he’s actually shorter than I am. (Mike may have a form of dwarfism, I don’t know, but he’s not even 5 feet tall). They’ve been happily married longer than Don and I.

I mention these stories because of an article I just stumbled across, a truly horrifying article about how many men are undergoing extraordinarily painful and expensive (average is $100,000) surgeries to lengthen their legs and add inches to their height. I found the article horrifying not so much because of the graphic description of how the surgery was performed as much as why these men felt compelled to have the surgery to begin with.

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Here are a few snippets from the article:

“I noticed that taller people just seem to have it easier,” [said John, one of the patients]. He shrugs. “The world seems to bend for them. … People just look at you differently when you’re tall. I already get a lot more looks at the gym.”

When I [the author’s article] first called up Dr. D [the surgeon], he told me that business has been booming: Since the onset of the pandemic’s work-from-home era, the LimbplastX Institute has been seeing twice its normal number of patients, and sometimes as many as 50 new people a month. That claim is backed up by a BBC report suggesting that hundreds of men in the U.S. are now undergoing the procedure every year.

But male height, particularly the absence of it, is one of the last social stigmas, as if the new rules of body positivity fail to apply vertically. Short guys aren’t so much discriminated against as they are precluded from stuff: like dating certain taller people, or making your frosh-soph basketball team. According to a 2009 study of Australian men, short guys make less money than their taller peers (about $500 a year per inch); are less likely to climb the corporate ladder (according to one survey, the average height of a male Fortune 500 CEO is 6 feet); and, for the cis and straight among us, have fewer romantic opportunities with women (a 2013 study conducted in the Netherlands found that women were taller than their male partners in just 7.5 percent of cases).

Originally just under 5-foot-6, Alan [another patient] never really thought of himself as short until a girl he had “a super big crush on, like, roasted me for it” in college. This instilled in him a deep insecurity that ultimately prompted him to get his femurs done in February.

It’s Alan’s example that ticks me off the most. How many short men undergo this painful surgery because some twit of a woman couldn’t appreciate him due to his height? Many men, it seems, developed an inferiority complex after rejections from women, which is just plain cruel.

My dad (who is currently 88 years old) was a brilliant engineer. As a young man, he worked for Cornell Aeronautical Lab (later called Calspan) in Buffalo, New York. He either directly worked on, or was peripherally involved in, satellite technology (one of his satellites is now in the Smithsonian) and very early artificial intelligence (this would be in the mid to late 1960s). Later, he started his own research company (later bought out by Westinghouse) that involved additional groundbreaking technology. My dad is 5-foot-7-inches in height, and was a giant in his field. I heard him discuss his height as it impacted his career literally never.

My husband stands 5-foot-6 (compared to my 5-foot-2). He’s the perfect height for me. He also exudes quiet confidence, strength of character and commands respect in every endeavor. As he puts it, “I look everyone in the eye” – no matter how tall they are.

In fact, both Don’s and my extended families are short going back multiple generations. We jokingly tell our daughters they have to be careful whom they marry, since we can’t risk any tall genes getting into the family. Personally, I find the compact efficiency of short men rather sexy.

That’s why I was sorry to read about all those men who felt compelled to undergo the drastic surgeries to add inches to their height. What a crying shame they feel the need.

They say there’s someone for everyone. I’m just glad I found Don, all 5-foot-6 of him.

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