I honestly don’t know if I’ve lost or gained jobs or partners because of my height. How can you find out about the ones that got away if they got away?
I don't wear high heels to compensate for being short because heels hurt. (I once knew a woman who wore stilettos every day, and the result was that her Achilles’ tendon shrank. She had to wear heeled slippers at home. True story.) The one time I wore platform shoes, I fell off them and put my ankle in a cast during rehearsals for a play, which had a second-act setting of a cellar that could be accessed only via a set of steep stairs, stage left. I crutched along for weeks, but my cast finally came off the day we opened. I hadn’t ever tried the scary stairs on two good ankles let alone a good ankle and an unsteady, unshaven one. To my director’s dismay, I chickened out of using the stairs and made all my second-act entrances from the wings. I pretended my character knew a secret passageway into the cellar. ‘Nother true story.
My lack of stature meant I looked up to pretty much everyone, and that was OK too. The only time I really wished to be taller was when I was pregnant, because the distance from my last rib to my hip is only six inches, so my baby had nowhere to grow but out. I looked like a tootsie pop on two sticks. If I’d fallen on my back, I’d have been as helpless as a June bug, my little arms and legs waving in the air while I waited for somebody to turn me over.
So. Yeah. Short. I share this because last month I listened to a program on National Public Radio’s This American Life titled “Tell Me I’m Fat.” (If you have never listened to This American Life, please do. It will make your life better. Honest.)
In this segment, journalist and author Lindy West (author of Shrill) talks about her experience of coming out as a fat person. She talks about working for a man whose favorite jokes were fat people jokes, shared with everybody on company email. West says, “You know, just moving through the world as a big person is hard. I take up a lot of space. It's undeniable. It's awkward and embarrassing. And I'm just constantly knocking stuff over with my butt, you know?” West talks about deciding to be happy as a fat person rather than perpetuating the myth that inside every fat person is a skinny person dying to get out. No, West says, inside this fat person is me, and I like myself just as I am.
Another guest on Ira Glass’s show, Elna Baker, chose a different approach to being fat: diet pills. Why? She’d been told she would never have a partner or a job unless she lost weight, which was an idea she scoffed at—until she lost 110 pounds and forthwith found both work and love. But, Baker says, she gave up being happy as one person in order to be happy as somebody else. There’s a sense of loss in Baker’s story when she talks about the fat girl she used to be: “It's sad that new Elna gets everything old Elna wanted, because I think old Elna was a better person than new Elna.”
The program includes a short interview with Roxanne Gay, a fat black woman who can’t even shop at Lane Bryant because she is “super morbidly obese.” The program discloses that a well-known religious university refused to allow fat people to matriculate unless they lost a pound a week. The Pounds Off Program (POPS) at Oral Roberts University that ran from 1976 to 1978 was a mandatory weight-loss regime for fat students who were required to lose a certain amount of weight in order to maintain their status at the university. Even now, ORU requires freshmen to wear a Fitbit that tracks their daily aerobic activity; a minimum of 10,000 steps per day is required. (The Fitbit tracks their whereabouts, too, in case you were wondering.) The Fitbit replaces the school’s old end-of-semester test in which students had to run 1.5 miles.
Never mind that 1 Samuel 16:7 reads, “But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
What is it about human beings that makes us so inclined to pass judgment on other human beings?
My theory is that judging others comes out of our survival instinct. We see strangers and we think: threat/not threat; potential rival/nope; wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers/never in a million years. But the key to the social compact is that we judge others silently in our minds. That’s where judgment of others should stay, according to Victoria Cohen Mitchell, who says in the July 2 issue of The Guardian, “We are kidding ourselves if we ever think it’s ‘helpful’ to tell somebody what we think is wrong with them. Deep down, our motivation is not so benign; it’s actually about our own desire to vent irritation at someone else’s weakness. It’s a nasty trait.”
Think about it: who among us does not have a weakness? Who among us is all the way strong, every day, in every area of our lives? Not me, that’s for sure.
I’m short, I already told you. I vacillate between glorious self-confidence and pathetic self-doubt. I am also, if you wanted me to lay my Evil Cat Hiss on you for saying it out loud, what you might call a dumpling. I wish it weren’t so. I joined a gym three years ago, but while I’m definitely firmer, I’m not any skinnier. Lindy West says, “The way that we are taught to think about fatness is that fat is not a permanent state. You're just a thin person who's failing consistently for your whole life...I don't know why I live in this imaginary future where I, you know, someday I'm going to be thin.”
Where is the line between hope and resignation? I think we're all skipping along that line, all the time.
As for me, I do not live in an imaginary future where someday I will be a tall, lanky, young Katharine Hepburn. I’m a butterball, and I can live with that. I’m not interested in being the right size according to somebody else’s standards. I’m interested in living the life I choose to live, and that life includes wearing comfortable shoes and eating chocolate and strawberry shortcake for however many more years I get. I quit smoking already—whaddaya want from me?
(Oh, and if I don't want to go swimming, it's because the water is too cold this time of year. So there.)