Inside: On dealing with unwelcome and sometimes unflattering attention as a tall girl….and two valuable lessons I’ve learned from being a tall woman.
I looked across the bar area of the restaurant and saw that guy. The guy that I had been noticing around town. He smiled and waved me over. My stomach fluttered.
We had talked before, but only briefly. Nothing had come of it. It was simply bad timing. I had higher hopes this time around.
I approached him with a smile. Then I stopped in front of him and watched, dismayed, as he rose up on his toes to compare his height to mine.
“Looks like I’m still taller than you,” he said.
With a slight shake of my head, I turned on my heel and walked away, disappointed.
It wasn’t the first time I received an unwelcome comment or gesture about my height. And it certainly wasn’t the last.
Tall Girl Problems
You would think after dealing with “tall girl” comments my entire life, this type of thing would just roll off. Right?
Sometimes, they do. But sometimes, they don’t. As a tall woman, I still struggle when people lack awareness about comments and actions regarding my height.
I had a similar situation happen recently. This time, it was someone in the same social circle, but someone I barely knew.
This person came up next to me and held his hand over my head, as if measuring my height….in a mocking type of way.
Inwardly, I cringed. Here we go again. Does this ever stop?
To make matters worse, I looked to my left and saw another person watching and laughing.
Oh sure. Let’s laugh at the tall girl.
It brought up ALL THE FEELINGS. You see, I’ve been known as “the tall girl” my entire life. I’ve been teased about being a giant since the age of eight.
So when people say or do things that don’t feel kind or nice about my height, it can trigger some ugly feelings for me.
Feelings of being teased. Laughed at. Ridiculed. Feelings of serious insecurity and self-consciousness.
This last time, it went deep. Like, maybe-I-need-therapy-for-this deep. I’m partially kidding. But I’m partially not.
So, in response to that gesture, I reacted poorly. With a red face and a quavering voice, I told this person just how rude and immature I thought they were. I did not mince words.
Ugh. Just thinking about my reaction makes me cringe.
It wasn’t only what I said that was bad…it was also how I said it. My words were barbed with years of hurt and anger.
This poor person stared at me in disbelief, as if I had kicked them in the gut. They looked at me like I was a crazy loon. And I felt like a crazy loon.
To make the long story short, we resolved it. They explained that they weren’t actually making fun of me – they were just playing around. And I explained why I jumped to a sudden conclusion. I also sincerely apologized.
I think we’re okay now. But the incident caused me to really reflect on how I could have done better.
Embarrassed and ashamed about my ugly reaction, I had to dig deep to try and understand my swift and harsh response.
I needed to make sense of why I still get triggered by the tall girl commentary.
Sometimes, I take the heightened attention from being a tall girl with a grain of salt. Other times, I’m overly sensitive about it.
We all have things that can set us off…even when we’ve worked to resolve them. It’s funny because there are times we may think that we’ve healed those old wounds. But then something triggers emotion and we realize, “Yikes. Maybe I still have some work to do.”
After a lot of reflection about my tall girl issues and a conversation with my therapist (yes, I brought this up in therapy), I came to two conclusions:
1. It’s Not Healthy to Assume Negative Intent
What do I mean by that? Well, I mean I should stop assuming the worst.
Just because someone “measures” my height, or makes off-the-cuff comments and statements about my size, doesn’t necessarily mean they are making fun of me.
Is it awkward and uncomfortable? Does it feel bad? Yes. But the person doing it may not realize it.
Turns out, in this most recent situation, this person thought being tall was a cool thing. I just read their gesture the wrong way.
After my apology and a heartfelt explanation of WHY I reacted so poorly, this person told me I should embrace my height. And incidentally, they have a very tall female friend, and they are able to joke around about height all the time. It’s a way they connect.
What I learned was that this person was simply making an effort to relate to me.
But see, I didn’t know that. Just like they didn’t know how much I disliked growing up tall, and that this was a way people had ridiculed and teased me in the past.
When we make assumptions about what we think we know, things can get sideways.
Maybe if I hadn’t assumed that person was making fun of me, and just let them know in a nicer tone that I didn’t perceive that as a compliment, I could have avoided a lot of angst and drama.
How many times do we assume negative intent regarding someone else’s actions or words? When really, we’re simply reacting to our own stuff?
Honestly, I’m guilty of it – assuming negative intent. I’m making progress. But it takes hard work and sometimes I still fall short.
It’s Not About You
Something else that came up in therapy recently: when conflict occurs, when someone says or does something unpleasant, one thing you can tell yourself is this: “It’s not about me.”
You never really know what someone has going on in their life and what is influencing their words and actions.
- So that coworker that just snapped at you? “It’s not about you.”
- Your friend that didn’t text you back? “It’s not about you.”
- When your neighbor makes a disapproving comment about your child’s blue hair? “It’s not about you.”
- Some random dude standing on his tiptoes next to you? “Not about you.”
- A crazy, middle-aged, hyper-sensitive woman who berates you for standing on your tiptoes next to her? “Nope. Not about you.” It’s about her and what she’s dealt with. It’s about her experiences and how she’s perceiving that moment.
So here’s my next point:
2. Be Mindful When Making Comments or Gestures About Someone’s Physical Appearance
Some people may not like this part, but I’m saying it with love. I promise.
I feel it’s important for us to understand that while we may not realize it, our actions do affect others. This is something I try to be aware of. But again, I know sometimes, I fall short.
Yes, I just made a big point above about how someone’s actions “aren’t about you.”
But still, as we go through life, we need to think a bit more about the things we say and do.
I can only speak for myself and my experience as a tall woman. But I feel fairly certain that many other tall women would agree with me on this.
The way we go about commenting on the appearance of other people really matters.
I work hard on self-acceptance, but it’s not always easy. Not many people know this, but I still feel insecure about my height at times.
Do you have things you feel insecure about? A lot of us do. So imagine if random strangers called out your insecurity on a regular basis. It could be your height, body shape, facial feature, your voice, anything. Think about it.
You would learn to tolerate it. And even accept it. But it can still feel crappy.
I Am More Than My Height
I am more than my height. I know that now. But it’s taken me a years to get over the experiences that made me feel otherwise.
Like the time a man that I worked with continuously and sarcastically referred to me as Baby Giraffe.
Like the kids that called me Too Tall.
The comments and questions:
“OMG!!! You’re so tall!”
“You’re a giant!” (Even better.)
“How’s the weather up there?”
“I would never wear heels if I were that tall.”
“How do you find clothes?”
“How tall are you, anyway?”
Incidentally, you would not believe how many men have argued with me about my height, stating that I must be at least 6’ 2”. Because, how can I be taller than they are, since they themselves are 6′? Trust me, I am not adding imaginary inches to my height.
But wait – there’s more:
Trick-or-treating in 5th grade with my friends, the adults at a few of the houses reluctantly gave me candy. They told me I was too old to be trick-or-treating. Never mind I was with five other ten-year-olds.
When I was twelve, the grocery store bakery offered a free cookie for kids twelve and under. My mom stopped to get cookies for me and my siblings. The bakery counter guy snidely questioned my age because of my height, stating, “Are you really sure you’re twelve? You’re really big to be twelve.”
The English teacher in Jr. High that stopped me in front of the entire class to question me about why my shorts weren’t past my fingertips. (The rule for shorts was that they had to come past your fingertips when your arms were extended down your sides).
Mine weren’t that long. Because I couldn’t find any shorts that came past my fingertips. They simply weren’t around in 1988.
I stood there, embarrassed and panicked that I would be sent to the principal’s office. Finally, she said, “I guess it would be pretty hard for you to find shorts that long. Go take a seat.”
And my personal favorite:
The time I was a sophomore in High School and our basketball team was playing away. A group of teen boys from the opposing team was yelling at us from the stands.
There was one guy I’ll never forget. He stood up nearly the entire game, yelling and pointing at me.
“Come on, Sasquatch! Go Sasquatch! Look at YOU, Sasquatch!”
Everything I did, he heckled me. He must have screamed Sasquatch 100 times. I can still see his jeering face and the hear the laughter of the boys around him.
No one told him to stop. Not their coach. Not my coach. And not even one parent.
Not one adult stepped in to shut that guy up. And I had to run up and down the court and try to ignore it. Trying to pretend that him calling me a huge, smelly, hairy monster, in front of hundreds of people, didn’t really bother me.
I was a fifteen-year-old girl. It was crushing.
So maybe this can help people understand why it might be hard to embrace something that people teased me for all the time I was growing up.
We’re All Human
Look, most people have good intentions. Usually, when we say or do something hurtful, we probably just don’t realize it. We aren’t aware.
I mess up a lot. Every. Day.
When I mess up, like in my story above, I always think about Maya Angelou’s amazing quote:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
So now I know better than to assume negative intent. I know better than to fly off the handle when someone unintentionally strikes a nerve. I can’t promise I won’t fail again, but I can promise to do better.
In turn, maybe this will also serve as a gentle reminder to all of us to think about our words and actions as they related to others.
Our feelings are valid. Sometimes, we just need to remember to choose a better response. To explain rather than escalate. And to give grace.
Speaking of grace. Remember the guy in the bar? That guy?
Well, four months later, I ran into him again. This time, he did not stand on his toes. This time, he apologized.
I accepted that apology. And then ten months later, I accepted an engagement ring.
When you know better, you do better. You Breathe. And you Reboot.
Life is funny like that.