Short, little, petite, itty-bitty, small, pint-sized, sprite, tiny.
My mom promised me I’d be at least 5’4. Surely, she believed, I’d be a good mix of both her and my father and end up right in the middle. Besides, her brother was tall, and her mother-in-law was tall. So, there was no doubt, that some of those genes would rub off on me, right?
As a kid, I was an average size, the average being that everyone else around me was the same size I was. In fact, there were maybe two girls in my classes in grade school that, up until sixth grade or so, were considered tiny. But then puberty came around and suddenly both the girls and guys started shooting up past me. I remember being so excited when I finally got to 5’0. It was the summer before my seventh-grade year, and I just knew that after the doctor told me the good news, finally I’d be normal once again, just like everyone else. Only I wasn’t. When I returned to school the following September, I was officially one of the smallest kids in my class. Just as I had grown over the Summer, so had everyone else.
As a kid, I was also very athletic. I ran incredibly fast for having such small legs, and I could jump pretty high. I played softball, and basketball, and later in high school, ran track. Of these three, basketball was my sport. I’m not one to brag but one could say that I was as much of a threat as Steph Curry is.
Not only was I fast, but I could shoot from anywhere on the floor. I could drive to the basket. I could rebound the ball. And I was one hell of a defender.
It was on the court that I first noticed exactly how small I was. By the time I got to middle school, most of the girls that I played with and against were much bigger than I was. In high school, I stopped playing basketball after not making the team. The coach of the varsity team at the time was looking to make the team bigger and publicly tried recruiting a six-foot-plus girl who had no history of playing basketball and only wanted to swim. It was then that I began hating how little I actually was.
High school is a hard enough time as it is and it’s common for teenagers to have doubts about the way they look. I looked young. Younger than most of the girls in my class, even though I was among the oldest in my class.
I had never learned to wear makeup, honestly didn’t like to, and I still felt most comfortable in sporty clothes. These preferences, plus the struggle with still learning how to manage my hair, gave me a look that most guys did not like, and didn’t enhance anything I had. It aged me down to a place where I was pretty much looked over… ignored.
Once I got to college, I had a little more practice, and patience, with myself in terms of my look. I found a hairstyle that I liked and that I could handle relatively well. I learned to do a little makeup and I found that maybe wearing clothes that flattered my figure would make me feel a little better about myself.
Despite all that, I was still hounded for my height. I figured most people were not trying to be mean, that everything said about me was done in fun. And I learned to ignore it.
I knew that everything about my body was proportional in size, and even if people didn’t believe that I could play ball, even if they’d rather put me in a cheerleading uniform in their minds, this was what God had given me. This was the size I was going to be. I’d have to learn to accept it.
My height also factored into my criteria in looking for a partner. I deliberately kept my search to people who were no taller than 5’11. Being the planner that I am, I thought about the kids I’d have one day and the last thing I wanted was to be forced to have a C-section because my overly tall husband gave me babies that were too big to birth naturally.
I know, I know, who thinks like me? One of the things I liked most about my now-husband when I met him was the fact that he wasn’t too big. He still was much taller than me at 5’7” and he liked how someone finally made him feel tall. We were a good match, a cute match to most people. And my planning paid off.
My kiddos were all very small newborns, not one weighing more than 7 lbs at birth. My experience being pregnant showed me exactly how ignorant people could be.
The first time I got a weird comment while pregnant was when I was carrying my oldest. It was 2010 and I was working as a manager for a major retailer. It must have been about seven months or so when a customer asked me to retrieve something for her from a tall shelf.
Before getting this far along, I had my doctor notify my company that I was not to be climbing any ladders to reach for anything while pregnant, as I had miscarried the year before and was nervous about losing this baby as well. I let her know that I would find someone who could help her as I was unable to use the store’s ladder. When she finally was ready to check out, I happened to be behind the cash wrap while one of my employees assisted her.
She looked at me carefully and then said something like “you look too young to be having a baby.” I then saw her study my hands, as if to check that I was married. It was an innocent statement in and of itself but her tone was condescending. I responded to her with “well, I’ve been out of college for two years and I’ve been married for just about one. I’m almost 25.”(Now that I’m much older still seems very young, but I digress.)
She simply smiled and nodded, wished me luck, and was on her way. It was after that day, that I began noticing stares as I walked anywhere. I was all belly and because of the way I dressed and looked, I felt judged. I began being very mindful to wear my ring everywhere.
I didn’t want people to think I was a teenage mother, that I was irresponsible and wouldn’t have the slightest clue on how to raise a child. I became very self-conscious, and even more so once my son was born. A few times, I had people look at me and ask if this was my brother. I learned after a while not to dignify it with a response.
The worst of it was after I became pregnant with my daughter. By this time, our little family had moved to New Jersey and I had gotten a job at a bank while enrolled in graduate school. There was this lady who frequented the establishment quite often, enough to be known by everyone who worked there, with whom everyone was on a first-name basis with the other.
She’d come in, be loud and boisterous, and spend more time involved in juicy gossip and personal conversation than in actual business. In short, she treated our lobby like a secondary living room. One day, I had the unfortunate pleasure of assisting her with her transaction when she asked my boss who had assaulted me.
I froze, not sure of what I had just heard. She said something like “this poor girl, surely she must have been attacked because she looks too young to be having a baby.” People laughed. Somehow, joking about rape was funny to them.
I stood there, waiting for someone to say something. I didn’t want to lose my job, but I knew I needed to say something. Finally, my boss said, “no, no, she’s married.” She then looked at me. I’ve never been one to mask my feelings, often wearing my emotions on my sleeve. She then said, “oh I’m just kidding!” I proceeded to finish her transaction and took an early lunch. I refused to help her again.
People Can Be Ignorant
People can be ignorant. Most of the time, the mean things people say and/or do are because of just that. People are also very visual. So when you mix the two, you often have a heap of assumptions based on nothing.
Fact is, as a shorter woman, there are a lot of things people incorrectly assume about me. They assume that my kids are not my kids. They assume that I’m a single parent. They assume that I’m not as smart as I am. They assume that I am unable to do anything for myself. They make fun of me.
As a shorter woman, you run into the mill of short girl problems. There’s the chance you won’t come home from the grocery store with everything on your list, especially if an item or two is too high to reach. Buying clothing items like pants, shoes, jumpers, and dresses always breeds a bit of anxiety for me. Sometimes petite isn’t petite at all. And maxi dresses would be so cute if they didn’t always drag on the floor. Things have to constantly be hemmed or taken in, which almost makes up for the small plus of being able to save money on shoes by buying kids’ sizes.
Body Image Is Something That Affects All Of Us
Body image is something that affects all of us. We are not perfect, and our physical appearance is one of the things that can remind us of this every day. There’s no way of knowing who or what decides what is “normal” but it’s this gross misconception that leads many of us to question our looks.
There’s always something we’d like to have bigger or smaller, thinner or thicker, shorter or taller. We are never truly satisfied. And while we can control what is being perpetrated within the media, although body image acceptance is now trending, it starts at home.
It starts with what we teach our children, and what we choose to expose ourselves to. It starts with finding ways to look our best, clothing that flatters our figures. It starts with feeling good on the inside too, carrying ourselves with pride and confidence.
There’s no such thing really as too big or too small, too short or too tall. There’s only what’s right and once we really learn, truly learn that what’s right for one is not what’s right for another, then body image will be one of the lesser concerns we carry.
So at 36, here I stand at a measly 5’1 “on a good day”, never reaching that promised land of 5’4 or 5’5. I will admit, I still get a little perturbed when I see super taller women, often wishing just for them to spare a couple of inches. I mean, would they really miss them?
But at the end of the day, this is what I got. Maybe it’s me getting older, or maybe it’s the busy mom life talking. But I don’t feel the need to make up for anything that I don’t have. I don’t wear heels to make me look taller. In fact, I hate heels. I stay in comfortable clothing and sometimes it’s flattering and sometimes it’s not. I wear very little makeup if any at all and I feel just fine about it. Sure, it took some time to get to this point, but I feel just fine in my own body- all 5 feet 1 inch of it.
Here, I am home.