I am five foot five. When I dust off my nice boots with the cowboy heels, I manage five foot seven. It’s nowhere near towering but at least it’s approaching the neighbourhood of “average”. Still, at 22, and with the sun now well and truly set on the possibility of a surprise growth spurt, I must face the crippling reality: I am a short man.
I am also slight of build with almost no natural capacity, it seems, of obtaining muscles. I’ve been described as a “tempest of power” – a euphemism, I suppose, for someone with a big personality but a tiny body. If you squint I could disappear from view entirely, which is great should I ever follow through on my childhood intent of becoming a private investigator stalking adulterers from my car. But it’s a hindrance for almost anything else.
The sort of discrimination I face is almost negligible relative to that of the truly and historically oppressed. But it is insidious and ongoing, and whether mostly psychosomatic or not, makes me feel confined in what I can achieve.
Television as a career seems generally off-limits, including associated professions that involve going on TV a lot. My latent desire to go into electoral politics might have to suffice with a lifetime in factional backrooms. Newspapers remain a great hideaway for the vertically-challenged, should they survive the decade, and I suppose radio, which has sheltered me from harm thus far, remains a viable option.
But size does matter in all those situations – and there are many in life – where we evaluate someone at face value. Job interviews, my current nemesis, are a case in point. How could any employer trust the child-like figure appearing before them? Could this diminutive person publicly represent a company or a brand? Big guys command attention, small guys disappear.
So it is gently amusing to read people like Kahla Preston write about the inconveniences of being tall, which include discomfort on planes and occasionally being asked about basketball.
Apparently it can also be difficult to hear friends in a crowded bar, necessitating some sort of ungainly stooping action, or, I suppose, asking them to project to the nosebleed section.
Try getting a drink at a bar when you’re a 5’5 guy. Even at average height, to achieve eye contact with a Sydney bartender you generally need to have either strolled off the catwalk or rolled off the rugby field. You can waive around $100 notes as much as you like, but when your forehead barely reaches the tip jar, you’ve got a snowflake’s chance in hell of service. Which is an ironic problem given the elevated need to seek solace in alcohol.
There are all sorts of fashion tips out there for smaller men: vertical stripes, matching colours, tall pointy hats. Most clothes in this country appear to be proportioned for the Big Friendly Giant or the morbidly obese, which is an eternal struggle. Suits are by far the worst, and can leave you looking like a tenth grader at his end-of-year formal draped in a 70’s pinstripe hand-me-down from dad. I’ve learned the best bet is to play the lottery and just import them from Japan or Korea, where I should probably just move.
Other options include forming a disco tribute act, providing an excuse to swan around in 10-inch platform shoes and flares, and maybe one of those ridiculous two-foot floral headdresses Elton John used to get around in. For a whole host of spurious and problematic reasons, society deemed it was appropriate – even desirable – for women to artificially increase their height with footwear, but not for men. And I, for one, am eternally jealous.
I’m not asking for sympathy, or patronage, or a subsidy from the NDIS, or anything. Apparently you can get leg-lengthening surgery in Thailand, but it involves breaking your bones and being in a wheelchair for a year. In darker moments I’ve considered it, but the risk of coming back mutilated and the humiliating vanity of the whole exercise scare me too much.
No, I don’t want any of that. All I really want is to be taken seriously, regardless of stature or biceps. And for you to take a step back when you’re facing me, so that you don’t tower over me and consume what precious little personal space I command. Oh, and maybe one of those footstools – a la former French president Nikolas Sarkozy – hidden behind every podium. Because I’m not going to vacate the stage.
Michael is a recent graduate of Sydney University, where he edited Honi Soit in 2012. He is also a community newspaper editor, freelance writer and volunteer at 2ser. He is chronically unimpressed but has managed to channel his misanthropy into Twitter: @michaelkoziol.
Have you ever felt held back by your height?