The 6′ rule

15 Mar

Actor and wrestler, Andre the Giant, stood at 7'4.

Last week, Davy Jones’ sudden death prompted a post about his life as an entertainer, and his life as a short man. Today, the focus is on tall men – their cultural psychology, how women feel about them, and medical problems they can face.

I know a lot of women like tall men. Our society has a thing about tall men being somehow better than shorter men but it is completely unproven. We have attachments to the notion that bigger is better but there is no correlation between a person’s height and their abilities or IQ.

Social anthropologists say women want mates who can provide and protect, and I’ve watched interviews with women who like tall men because they say, tall men give a feeling of protection (though I’m not sure why they would need protection in our relatively safe modern-day western world).

As I said last week, I am a small woman and I prefer short men because among other things, I’m concerned with proportion. Why would I want to cart around a step-ladder for the times that I want to kiss my tall boyfriend, and similarly, how could a tall guy feel on equal footing to his tiny girlfriend when she only comes up to his armpit? I’ve heard some men say “the height difference doesn’t matter when you’re horizontal”. Perhaps not, but how much of your relationship do you plan to spend lying down?

Once bitten, twice shy

I have been on a lot of dates in my life and I have learned a lot of things. Several years ago on a dating website, I was in contact with a handsome man who seemed interesting. I looked at his stats and saw his height. “Yeah right, no one is 6’11,” I said, assuming a typo, and decided to meet him.

To my absolute astonishment, he was 6’11. It was the most bizarre date I’ve ever been on, even outside of the 21″ height difference. He was odd, he was large, and he got aggressive. In the end, I had to use all the strength in my body to fight him off. Though he was almost 2 feet taller than me and double my weight, I managed to get away unscathed.

From that potentially harmful experience, I created a rule that prevents me from dating men over 6′, keeping me feeling safe from harm. Even if the giant is the most lovely, gentle creature, even if I’m accused of heightism, even if people tell me I’m being unfair, the size difference is just too imposing. I shock some tall men when I tell them they’re too tall for me – I know most of them haven’t heard such a remark before, but I hold my ground out of pure self-preservation. I don’t want to get into another compromising situation and I hope they understand my position.

Now, 6’11 is unusually tall, and the average height of Canadian men is 5’8, but men standing 6′ tall are rated the most attractive to women and are said to be the most reproductively successful. Social anthropologists say that in evolutionary terms, tall men and petite women are favoured and can afford to be more selective in their romantic partners.

Health problems

It’s no secret that taller men attract more women and earn more money, but shorter men live longer and enjoy better health. We don’t often think about height as a threat to our health, but taller people are susceptible to Marfan Syndrome – the stretching and consequent weakening of connective tissue in organs, bones, and ligaments, also associated with lung and eye problems. Being a tall man over 50 increases the risk for prostate cancer too.

Some teenage boys grow so long and lanky that they feel awkward and self-conscious and try to make themselves less noticeable by slouching. If this carries into adulthood, repetitive strain injuries can result, made worse by living in a world designed for smaller people – desks, beds, doorways, cars, planes, etc.

In 1983, John Gillis, psychology professor at Fredericton’s St. Thomas University, wrote Too Tall, Too Small, describing height extremes and associated behaviours – the Napoleonic Complex, plaguing short men who behave aggressively due to their lack of height, and the Friendly Giant Syndrome affecting some tall people with what Gillis calls an overcompensation for being physically dominant – tall people trying to be as nice as possible and sitting at every opportunity.

Some giants don’t want to dominate the situation with their stature and as Gillis says, many very tall people have gentle dispositions, but this can go too far in the opposite direction and the tall individual can lack assertiveness to the point of being a doormat. (Read the Ottawa Citizen article about Gillis’ book.)

Our culture still sees the world from a masculine perspective – through testosterone goggles where everything is larger, but bigger is not necessarily better. In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the height issue by asking, “Have you ever wondered why so many mediocre people find their way into positions of authority? It’s because when it comes to even the most important positions, our selection decisions are a good deal less rational than we think. We see a tall person and we swoon.”

I think as a culture, we are taught to see taller men as somehow better than short but being too small or too tall can have serious effects on a man’s confidence. I’m not sure that I would say tall men are any more confident than short men; I think it’s up to the individual. I see smaller men shrinking in too-big clothes and tall men with terrible posture trying to blend in with the shorter majority as often as I see well-dressed men of all heights with their heads held high.

No matter what your size, gents, it’s all in the way you carry yourself which is a product of how you feel about yourself. You have the choice to walk tall or to shrivel, and the rest of us will respond to what we see.

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