The XX Factor

A Tall Glass of Water is More Than Half Full

Ann Friedman of Feministing has written a fine review/analysis of Arianne Cohen’s new book Tall: A Celebration of Life From on High . Ann is tall. And technically, so am I, at 5’9”. So I love the idea that, as Friedman writes:

Much of the book focuses on the undeniable advantages that come with being tall-I’d venture to call it height supremacist, even. Because height is a product of not just genetics but good childhood nutrition, there’s a strong correlation between height and intelligence, and therefore height and wealth.

Yes, I suppose milk does “do a body good.” But it’s an interesting suggestion that “nurture” can amplify or suppress what I’d thought to be mostly genetic predetermination. This opens a Pandora’s box for tinker-happy parents, especially given widespread social beliefs about the gender dynamics of height, and the disadvantages that accrue to tall women:

Cohen describes how, as early as age 8, she was offered the option of taking estrogen to stunt her growth so she would not reach her projected height of 6’5”. This practice developed in response to parents’ fears their daughters would not be able to find a husband if they grew too tall. Cohen said no to the estrogen, and today she’s 6’3”. It was a good choice-growth-stunting estrogen has been linked to fertility problems later in life. Yet some doctors continue to prescribe this “treatment” for tallness. A 2002 survey of 411 endocrinologists found 137 still offered height-reduction treatments. How fucking archaic is that ? Cohen writes, “In the United States boys are rarely treated, because height is considered beneficial.”

Though I spent my ‘tween years in a steady hunch-the better to hear my wee male classmates-the idea of taking hormonal treatments to squelch normal growth seems medieval. In the intervening years, I have learned to straighten up and enjoy my stature, and to be honest, now yearn for an extra inch or three. Perhaps Alicia Silverstone’s classic “just say no to coffee” line from Clueless still resonates. (Sidenote: What happened to Stacey Dash?)

Friedman walks through the interesting relationships of women to height, and tall women to social beliefs they might not even recognize as disordered. As in, “I’m 6’1”, and I’m at the cut-off height. I don’t know if I would feel as confident if I were 6’5”.” Replace “height” with “weight” and you see how this sneaky prejudice would be completely unacceptable if it pertained to other social and physical differences.

However, if it’s testosterone that correlates to height, are there social benefits to the masculine traits that height might suggest? I don’t mean to suppose that male tendencies are always beneficial (it’s men, Feministing writes, who “don’t like being looked down on by a woman,” and find tall women less attractive), but if height imports confidence, security, and liberation from high heels, I’d call it a fair trade.

Cohen’s book no doubt reveals all-but even anecdotal evidence suggests this might be the case. Take one scene in the charming Julie and Julia , in which Julia Child and her (equally tall) sister laud their height as a free pass out of convention and surburban mores. Though Child once asks her husband Paul, quite fearfully, “What if you hadn’t loved me?” I suspect, had Julia Child been 5’6” and not 6’3”, you might not have Mastering the Art of French Cooking on shelves today.