Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sure, Frodo's Cute, but Aragorn Gets All the Action

While I’m on the topic of body image: there is a type of prejudice of which I have become acutely aware since the birth of my son.

Why is still okay to make fun of short people?

Why is it a compliment to remark upon how tall a child is, but a slur to point out that a child is short?

Why is everyone so happy when babies are big?

Why is automatically better for a man to be tall?

How is height any different from any other immutable physical characteristic?

The first time I watched Shrek, long before HB was born, I didn’t find it odd that one of the running jokes is about how short the prince is while the movie is (ostensibly) about how it’s okay to look different from society’s expectations of beauty. Now it grates on my nerves, and I wonder if I should even let HB watch it.

HB is normal—he’s “on the curve”—but he’s waaaayyyy down there, usually in the single digits percentage-wise. He’s the size of the average child a full year younger, and there are kids in his class who are taller than he is who are two years younger. In some ways this is an advantage for him now; people routinely think that he’s outrageously advanced for his age. (My husband used to correct people who said things like “He talks so well!” by saying “No, he’s really small for his age,” until I pointed out that he was implying that HB was short and stupid.)

It won’t be an advantage forever. He’s currently on track to be about 5'5" or 5'6" when he’s an adult – maybe 5'7" if he jumps the curve at the end the way a lot of boys on my side of the family do. This means that he will be routinely eliminated during searches (or whatever it is they have in 2025). He will probably be accused at some point of having a Napoleon Complex or “short man syndrome.” He might have trouble being elected president.

Let me make clear that I realize this is not a terrible problem to have. I am tremendously grateful that my son is healthy and normal. I don’t actually want to be the mother of a president. But it does worry me, and I really don’t know how to help him negotiate his way as he gets older. With one exception, all of his close male relatives—father, uncles, grandfathers—are 5'10" to 6'3", so not a lot of role modeling there.

There is a fair amount of advice out there on how to help your daughter gain a healthy body self-image, but very little for boys.

Those of you with experience with the short guy thing: any advice?


Karyn said...

Got nothing for you but will watch to see what others say. My 3 y.o. is in the 3rd percentile for height!

Romance said...

Ahhh, I don't have boys, but I do have kids who were medically normal, but in the 2-5% on the growth charts. I found it super tedious to deal with the regular commentary on my kid's statures. Its not like I walked up to Mom's in the park and said "Wow, your kid is monstrously fat, has a freakishly big head, or whatever...". But somehow it was OK for total strangers to constantly make commentary on my kids being tiny.

Given that both had a birth mom who had zero prenatal care and some seriously horrible habits - I was thrilled my kids were healthy and hitting milestones.

One was preemie- so she has caught up, the other recently catapulted into the midrange. But never-the-less we spent a good year and a half with unwelcomed commentary.

Anyway, good luck. I think there is some generally good stuff, more geared towards girls, on

Katie said...

My Dad's only 5'5", and my Mum is 5'3", myself I made it to the heady height of 5'5". For me growing up I don't think I ever remember my Dad's height being an issue, and I don't really regard him as being short, there are plenty of women out there shorter than that.
Chances are he'll have a larger than expected growth spurt and be on track to be average, and there's nothing wrong with being average!

Vic said...

Damnit, you hit a chord.

Labelling a child is never OK. Tall, short, or otherwise. He needs his parents as champions. My daughter has a difficult time breaking into any social situation. If anyone calls her shy I will immediately challenge them politely with "why do you need to label a child?" . Unless they are complete Neanderthal, they won't do it again. Most of the time it is relatives and "friends" who say this. These are the people whose comments should be challenged.

Soap box now put away.

As an aside, one the most accomplished amateur triathletes I know is a anaesthesiologist of diminutive stature.

tadpoledrain said...

The guy I have so far been the most physically attracted to in my life was only maybe 5'4" or 5'5". He was seriously into MMA -- a fighter and a trainer -- which is how I met him, taking an MMA class, and he always told us how every body shape had its own advantage in MMA, short or tall or fat or skinny (I'm a short fat girl, so I think his comments tended to be specifically directed at me, but also reflected on his own experience). So my best advice would be to get HB involved in some sort of sport like MMA where all different body types are seen as being good, or maybe gymnastics, where being short actually is an advantage (but, you know, not to the crazy-making extent where people only eat protein shakes and have to weigh themselves all the time to make sure they don't have an OUNCE. OF. BODY. FAT). (Re: the boy, sadly he had a long-term girlfriend. Sigh.)

MFA Mama said...

Hmm...good question. I have three sons, two of whom are above the 95th percentile for height and the youngest of whom is not even on the chart (as in, below the low end) for height. So not only is Kid The Third short, he's got two very tall brothers. In my case I'm so damn glad he's alive (this is my medically-interesting one, who has a g-tube and spent the first year of his life doing his damnedest to drop dead on me) that I don't even think about his height except when someone brings up a topic like this, and then it's kind of like "huh, yeah, interesting." His father and I have had some bitter, bitter debates about the possibility of HGH in Kid The Third's future (I have a crap thyroid and borderline adrenals and react so horribly to corticosteroids of any sort that I was on Lasix for two months after an ACTH-stim test, so I am very much against HGH in a child whose health is precarious without throwing any more variables into the mix, especially since it wouldn't be medically necessary but rather medicine for vanity's sake, his father's that is) and since we are not together but have joint legal custody I am sure it will end up in court someday, which makes me nervous (Kid The Third is only three and has has his thyroid and cortisol levels checked and those are fine, so while the pediatrician did give me the name of an endocrinologist I COULD take him to, I am in no hurry, especially as he legitimately NEEDS to see the hematologist, orthopedist, and geneticist and the only thing we'd be seeing the endo for would be to examine his growth). The way I see it, we're so lucky that kid is alive that complaining about his height (which his father does quite a bit of) is tantamount to Invitin' the Lightnin' and there are far worse things in life than short stature (if Kid The Third follows his current growth curve he will be lucky to reach 5'2, which means that he will be short but still be able to drive a car without special accommodations). I get a lot of "Little Professor!" remarks (Kid The Third is about two years AHEAD of his age intellectually and that combined with his diminutive size draws quite a bit of attention; he also wears glasses, which is a whole different image/expectation issue), which irritate me, but they beat the "OMG he is HOW OLD???" remarks. Probably all of the comments about his size will start to annoy the everloving CRAP out of me as Kid The Third gets older, but I'm still in the "YES BUT HE DIDN'T DIE!" groove and don't take offense (yet). Maybe it would be different if Kid The Third was in perfect health but the exact same size?

Anonymous said...

What a great observation and I'm reading these comments with interest. All the guys in my family are tall so I never grew up with shorter males around. However, my uncle's wife's family has men who are all under 5'5" and they are genuinely some of the nicest men I know. Just lovely people, very intelligent, the kind of people you really enjoy seeing at family picnics, which is mostly when I see them. So maybe in spite of the stereotyping there is hope out there?

Whatever the resources, this I know: you and Trohpy Husband are caring and mindful individuals. You're uniquely suited to be HB's parents and you'll give him what he needs to be the type of person that people respect and want to befriend. He's growing up knowing he's loved. The self-esteem that comes from that alone has got to provide a firm foundation against the time that his height may become an issue.


C. said...

As a tall person (female, 5-9) I dont see anything troubling about a male being 5-5. My friend is 5-3 and is an accomplished Marine. When I was growing up, I was made fun of for being tall (and having big boobs), so there is always something kids will find to make fun of.

As for dating, men under the average range in my experience have no problem dating. I prefer someone the same height personally, but I know many, many men that have gone on to find lovely significant others (men and women) and their height was never an issue.

Anonymous said...

My brother topped out at about 5'7, and it wasn't until he was perhaps 19 or 20 that he got there. He was always on the low end of the height chart (opposite of me- I started out in the 95th percentile and wound up in about the 50th).

It probably helped my brother that he got interested in drama in high school as opposed to sports, so height wasn't a big deal. But he played soccer and basketball until high school and was one of the better players on the team, so it never mattered much. I know he didn't like being short, but I don't remember anyone ever making a thing of it. It was just the way things were.

Anyway, he's 26 now, and very happily married to a wonderful woman. They own a home and have two dogs and a cat. He's got a job he really loves and is basically successful by just about anyone's standards. So, there's plenty of hope for the short guys, I think!

Anonymous said...

On the Frodo/Aragorn thing - I'd hit either one of them. For yum...

I think the height thing will be an issue if you make it an issue. Most of the popular guys I knew in school were short, because they had decided to have a personality instead of relying on the "tall, dark, handsome, and boring" model. My dad is only 5'7", so it didn't seem to hurt him.

My DH is the runt of his family at 6'3", (and gets teased about it) so it really doesn't seem to matter how tall someone is - if there are stupid people around, somebody will find something to make fun of...

G in Berlin said...

I am short (61 inches) and hate it. I begged my parents for HGH as a teen and still resent not being able to get at least a few more inches. That said, Iw ould have been happy at 63 to 64 inches, but I think that it is indeed way harder and worse for guys and I'm not sure where the line needs to be drawn. My dad is 5'8" and he doesn't care, but he wasn't raised in America. My brothers are 5'10" and 5'11" (and always claims 6') and I know the shorter has had problems. 5'7" is really fine, to me, but I'm not certain how that is to a guy. Here in Germay, my 6' tall husband often appears to be a midget, in the US, I think the average male height is 5'9" or 10?

You have time, I think, to consider the whole thing from all angles. As a dr. you probably know far better than I the repercussions.

Anonymous said...

My best friend is 5'6" (I'm 5'10") and he's smart, witty, and fun to be around. He's at the top of his department at school and if anyone hurls an insult his way, it's usually something like "Shut up smarty pants and let us try to figure it out first."

I tease him about being short, he teases me about running into door frames. He rock climbs like crazy and that tends to win him respect from the males in our group.

He says he deals with being short(er than most men) by 1) accepting that he is on the low end of average, 2) having friends that don't care, and 3) laughing his ass off when someone thinks pointing it out will win them cool points with anyone.

Anonymous said...

I've heard that men of shorter stature had better places to put their, er, length. [cough] :-)

Anonymous said...

Never did Bruce Springsteen any harm...or Kelly Jones from the Sterophonics...and if he gets French citizenship he could indeed be predident (well, Prime Minister).

My husband is 5'6" and it's never bothered him, though we are in Scotland.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, while no-one says 'fat' they do make a ton of personal comments about my daughter (she is tall and not skinny though not overweight). For example referring to her as chunky or big which are not so nice for a little girl (comments are usually right at her). So I'm afraid my conclusion is that people are just jerks and you just have to explain that nice people don't make any kind of personal remarks!

painting with fire said...

My son is short - has always been in about the 5th percentile. I'm 5' even and my husband is 5'11" but all three kids take after my height. Daughters both ended up around 5'2". My son was the shortest kid in his school for years but he is also a terrific athlete - very fast and fit. Thus far his height doesn't seem to bother him. We've steered him towards sports where being short isn't an issue - easy in our soccer mad household - and there are plenty of great (and short!) soccer players for him to emulate. It's a nice side-step around some of the issues that might not work for someone who is short with significant health issues. I've never minded being short but of course it's less of an issue for a woman.

Kim said...

My husband is 5'7.5" or 5'8" and people don't even notice that he's below average as far as I can tell. I didn't notice. Anyway, he's a microbiologist and used to own a recording studio - so girls weren't a problem. At least not because of his height, those ridiculous thrift store blazers weren't doing him any favors though.

It doesn't seem to have affected him in his career either. I've noticed though that his career, thanks to the pathetic state of American public schools, is filled with people from countries in Asia and Europe where 5'7" is downright average.

So my advice to HB - be cool, only date foreign girls with sexy accents, be smart. Pick up guitar or drums or something - the chics dig it.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, he'll be really tall for a girl who is 5 ft or barely above!
I was so tiny at his age that they thought I'd be 5 foot or 5 two--I'm 5-6. Who knows?

Anonymous said...

I agree...who knows? A lot can change in adolescence.

I have a mom who is 5'5', a dad who is 6'5. I went from 5'1 at the beginning of 7th grade to 5'8" at the end. And I lived in Hawaii, so I was pretty much the tallest girl. Of course people commented.

Now I am over 100 lbs overweight. I hear cruel comments regularly. One of my twin sons is 70% in height but slender, the other is 95% and chunky...mostly muscle, but very broad in build like his mom. Who do you think people comment about? He has been called a bruiser, a farmer (in a disdainful voice), a chunk, etc. Someone told me that the other kids had better be nice to him. As though he is a menace. I tell him he is my beautiful big boy. And I privately thank God that he is not a girl dealing with this.

There is always something people will find to make comments on. I think it's okay to mention that a child is tall, or something that is considered positive. It's not okay to comment on anything that seems derogatory, even if true. I KNOW I am overweight, I don't need people yelling things out of cars as I walk down the street. You can't protect him, but I bet he will find his own way of protecting himself or not caring.

Bob and Elysha said...

When I was 18 mo old, they told my mom I would be about 5'4". I was the second shortest person in my school in 6th grade. I had a growth spurt at 14 and am 5'6" now. (I'm female.) My parents were told my sister would be about 4'9" and she's 5'2".

I guess my point is that, while I know there are all of these medical predictions about height, there isn't really any way to know for sure how tall HB will be quite yet.

It doesn't help with what to tell him... but thought I'd share. :)

Artemis said...

It seems that it's not so much the actual height of a child that causes the comments, but how far off the spectrum he/she might be. In your case, you're getting lots of comments about how smart HB is for his age as people assume he's much younger; in my case, I got a lot of scorn regarding how slow and stupid my son seemed for his age - because he was always the size of someone a year or two older. He's 15 and 6'3" now; we don't think he's done growing yet. He's routinely offered alcoholic beverages when we're out at a restaurant as everyone continues to assume he's much older simply because of his size. In the past we had to help him deal with teasing and comments from thoughtless classmates and adults who should have known better; we've done our best to instill a healthy self-attitude which is as unrelated to size as we could make it. I know this doesn't help you with your specific question about small stature, but it's really not easier at this end of the spectrum (at least while our son is young). Good luck!

E. said...

Well, I have a couple of short guy friends who are wonderful and successful, both of whom attract women like crazy. I also know a number of short guys who seem really annoying and insecure. Then again, I know some tall guys who seem annoying and insecure.

It does suck that HB will be open to slurs that focus on his height. But, I think that if he feels good about himself in general, his height is unlikely to be a major issue. In my experience, people with good self-esteem aren't prone to getting down about the ways that they don't measure up to narrow societal expectations. There's still the question of how to help your kid develop a healthy self-esteem. But it seems like having an articulate, thoughtful parent (or two) who's willing to talk to him about stuff like this can only help.

Anonymous said...

People are just thoughtless quite often. I don't have any "short guy" wisdom to offer, except that I am 5'11" and have had crushes on quite a few guys who might make it to shoulder height on me. It's all in the personality, I think.

My kids are at or above the 97th percentile line for height and they get the other kind of dumb comments, plus they never get to be the "cute little" ones and are expected to act older than they are. Incidentally, several of my 6 yr old daughter's male friends are on the small side. So far, it's not an issue for them; they are into karate and gymnastics and creative movement class, bikes, hiking and climbing.

There are advantages and disadvantages to every body type. I also believe that every kid has something other people can tease him/her about, and so we all have to learn to cope.

Anonymous said...

I am 38 weeks pregnant with a little boy, so this topic is certainly of interest. My husband is 5'10" and I am 5'4", so I guess we will see where this monkey ends up.

But - I am the child of two smaller folk; my Mom is 5'0" and my father is 5'4". Born in late November (our school cutoff is Dec. 31) and made to skip grades as a child, he was teased about his height. That said - he is incredibly kind, thoughtful and just about the smartest person I know. Incredibly well-respected at work and in the community, and super generous, I cannot imagine anyone saying that he has a Napoleon complex!

HB may be small, but he comes from you and TH and you both seem pretty awesome. Based on my Dad's situation, I am hopeful that people will reflect on the overall awesomeness and see the height as secondary.

Anonymous said...

Being involved in the RIGHT sport definitely helped me accept my body. I have never had good eye-hand coordination, and have always failed miserably at any sprt that requires one to interact with a moving ball. (Just about every playground sport was a humiliating experience for me. I grew up thinking sports were for others.) Also contributing to my unhappy relationship with my body: I have a very "unfeminine" body -- very broad shoulders, ridiculously wide ribcage and broad back (with freakishly high lung capacity), flat bottom, small hips, and no fat at all on my bony legs. The times in my life that I felt best about my body were when I was seriously rowing crew; my broad back and relatively high center of gravity contributed to my being a strong rower. So, yeah: help him find sports (like gymnastics, diving, cycling, riding horses . . . I am sure there are others) where his compact body will give him an advantage. I wish to god I'd discovered rowing earlier; it would have made for a much, much happier adolescence. (Sadly, reynaud's syndrome means no more rowing for me, since it is always chilly in the morning where I live, and you can't wear gloves or mittens while rowing.) -victoria

Anonymous said...

I think that some of the nicest men I've dated have been shorter than me. The key to their success--confidence in themselves and no hangups about me being taller. That took time to develop, I'm sure. I wound up marrying someone taller than me, but not that much taller.

Probably don't fret over it and make it an issue, and it won't be. Focus on the things he is good at and the physical attributes you find attractive. Remember we create what we fear.

Anonymous said...

I was supposed to be 5'2" - I kept growing and ended up 5'8" - at 18. Charts aren't everything. But I think the comments about getting him in the "right" sport are spot on.

Anonymous said...

I am about 5-7, never a big deal being short. I grew early, nearly full grown by about 14 so was among the biggest in my class in 7th grade and smallest guys in high school. One downside - my wife won't dance with me because she's taller (her excuse anyway). I was teased more for being chubby when I was a little kid, not so many problems with being a short(er) male adult.

My daughter (adopted) has been on HGH therapy for over a year. I was torn as to whether to do it, but she'd been below the curve and was falling off further. So far so good, she's grown about 7 inches in less than 18 months.

Anonymous said...

I have a son who was in the 3rd percentile for a while. He is now around the 10th percent. His younger brother has always been between 50-75 percent. My son is 8 years old with a late august birthday and everyone recommended that he start school a year late. Which we did. He is in second grade now. I regret the decision a little bit. But it is one way to help a shorter boy "catch up" with his peers. Although I am hoping height will not be an issue for him in his life, I am reasonably certain it will be. Just like it would be if he had a larger than average nose or was overweight or any number of physical characteristics that people routinely use to judge other people. That said, I have two male friends who are short and they are wonderful and it does not seem to have been an issue for them. So I have hope that he will have the skills to deal with this relatively insignificant issue. I hope he gains the skills by having an intelligent, questioning mind, a secure sense of himself as a complete person, and not merely as what he looks like. Plus, he seems to tend toward bookishness, where height will be irrelevant, rather than toward athletics, where it is less apt to be irrelevant. Also, as an aside, he was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, so that could well have contributed to his slow growth, and he may very well end up average or above average in the end.

Anonymous said...

I thought the exact same thing watching Shrek recently--my son is the same age (3 in Jan.). He started out a big baby but in his first year barely ate and he just didn't grow much, while other babies were doubling in size. He's now about 26 pounds and 37 inches and his cousin, 13 months old, is catching up to him in both height and weight fast. We went through all sorts of insanity, testing him for hormone deficiencies, allergies, thyroid issues, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, before the docs finally said he's just little, deal. he's very active, smart, funny. but it's definitely an issue for other family members, even (who discuss, often, my son's diet and how/how much he eats, which for a toddler, well...)--i think because he's a boy. it sucks. i just do my best to keep him fed and happy and healthy and maybe he'll hit a growth spurt; if not, that's fine too. I just hope he sees it that way too.

Anonymous said...

Sounds as though HB, height-wise, is nicely on track to be a big-time movie star. I believe that Tom Cruise is 5'5" or 5'6", for example (and he's not the only one!). Sylvester Stallone isn't that tall either. And, for all of those of us who grew up on the "A-Team," Mr. T is about 5'3" or 5'4" (I've seen him in person). I don't think anyone's making jokes about his height, though. And if anyone is, then I pity the fool.

It sucks that you have to worry about this. But I think that height is similar to a lot of other things in that it's not as important as your personality and actions. I've known many tall guys who couldn't get dates and many non-tall men who were beating 'em off with a stick. (Not literally, but you get my point.) Yes, yes, women say they like tall men all of the time. As one of my friends put it a while back, what a lot of women really want is to know that their boyfriends/husbands/whatever can, if the occasion calls for it, sweep them up in their arms and carry them off. The human mind tends to assign "tallness" as the first indicator for this, but it's certainly not the only reliable one!

Anonymous said...

I have dealt with this issue from both sides. My daughter, now 13, was always the tallest in her class. I have always told her to be proud of her height and she holds her head up high and smiles when people comment.

My son, like HB, was tiny. He was off the bottom of the charts by age two and we worried about what was wrong (after having a string bean of a daughter, his height issues left us quite puzzled). But he slowly but steadily moved along, and now, at age 10, he is in the 90th percentile and one of the tallest in his class!

You never know how things will turn out.

By the way, I am 5'5" and my hubby is 5'10", so we don't exactly have tall genes here!

OMDG said...

Maybe he could get involved in gymnastics? Or cycling/distance running when he's older? Or wrestling? Soccer? Rowing?

Being awesome at sports seems to negate many of the "but he's short" social problems that short men have.

Also, as many of your readers have already pointed out, he's the perfect height to be a movie star.

Anonymous said...

wow! thanks for posting this, I have the same issue w/ my daughter, and people keep on remarking how small she is! I was feeling so bad about all the comments that have been made recently - she's 5.5 and in the 5%.

Anonymous said...

I'm a fairly tall woman, 5'9, and my husband is average for a guy at the same height. I've pretty much only ever dated guys shorter than me... the tall guys didn't want me for whatever reason, so that's been my fate. And honestly? I LOVE shorter guys. I like big tall ones too lol, but some smaller guys are so sexy in that feisty way, and i like how compact and cute their bodies are. I've never had issue dancing with them or anything else :P. I donno if that will squick you out or make you feel better, but that's my take on it lol.

Anonymous said...

We have the other end of the equation - a tall girl who is off the growth chart on the high end. She wears a size TWO shoe at age 4. This kid is going to be seriously tall. I am reasonably tall (5'10") and my husband is an inch or two taller than I am, but neither of us veers into basketball-player territory. My father is 6'7", and there is height on both sides. A complicating factor for my daughter is that, along with the height, she is extremely bright, but tracks a little behind in social/emotional maturity. So I have a 4 year old who is as tall as a 7 year old, bright as all get out, and yet throws tantrums like a two year old and doesn't cooperatively play yet. And yet, I still haven't gotten used to the disapproving glares (which may have something to do with my 37 inch tall one year old boy who will.not.wear.pants). Sometimes I fantasize about approaching extremely tall college girls at the grocery (we live in a college town) and asking them to be her big sister. I just want her to know that it's possible (probable, even!), that she will be beautiful and strong and successful even if she isn't a petite, adorable cheerleader.

SO, in short, no advice, but a similar class of problems. maybe you should send him to my house. Apparently we feed them giant chow.

Which reminds me, a friend whose daughter tracks off the low end of the curve (for weight. height is 15%)*Does* send her daughter to my house a lot. She eats SIGNIFICANTLY more here than at home. A good part of it if that I won't breastfeed her (she's two and still nurses), but a good bit of it is the element of competition when my kids eat. When you sit for a meal with voracious giants, you'd best eat while you can.

Anonymous said...

My short brother-in-law says "Well, my feet touch the floor, so I guess I'm tall enough."