It’s 1996 and 3-year-old me is in the supermarket with my heavily pregnant mum and an arm I broke in an earlier bid for freedom which saw me build a staircase of cuddly toys to escape my playpen. I’m characteristically running riot in the aisles until eventually my poor mother loses her temper and shouts at me. The rest of the shop look on in shock, indignant that anyone could ever be angry with a tiny, curly-haired, broken-armed angel like me – after all, I couldn’t be more than a year old or so, could I?
I don’t remember this story, I just heard about it from my mum. But I like it because it seems to neatly sum up the ways in which my – ahem – ‘slight’ stature has impacted on my life and character. The determined streak that saw me seize that opportunity for freedom in the weeks prior; the mischievous extroversion that has always ensured I get in there before any cruel comments; the mitigation of my cheekiness because I was cute, and tiny. Being spectacularly short is just part of who I am and what I look like, but it’s also become part of my personality and everyday life over the last 21 years.
I am 4 foot 8 – and three quarters, they’re pretty important – inches tall, ¾ of a foot smaller than the average UK woman, and a good four inches smaller than my eleven year old sister. I should make clear from the outset that I have no physical disability that’s resulted in this state of affairs, I’m just really short. Not ‘petite’ short, or ‘I can still wear high heels and not be taller than my boyfriend’ short, just really, weirdly, unusually short. And no, I don’t know why. And no, my mum isn’t as tiny as me. And no, I don’t need to wear a booster seat in a car (unless the cushion I had to sit on when I was learning to drive counts. (I wish I was joking)).
These are the kinds of questions I’m asked all the time, more often than not by people who have just met me, or sometimes even people I don’t know – like the man who walked up to me on an Edinburgh street to inform me, because I hadn’t noticed until then, that I am ‘really tiny by the way’ and then walked off again. Or the lads in a nightclub who repeatedly asked me ‘why I was so small’ and wouldn’t take ‘why are you so ugly’ for an answer (…just kidding).
In this sense, the biggest disadvantages to being the wrong side of 5 foot are often in how my height intersects with my gender; the entitlement people feel to an explanation of a body that doesn’t quite fit the required standards. The street harassment familiar to all women takes the form of comments around my height, on more than one occasion crude ones about the proximity of my head to a man’s crotch, and often interrogations about the, erm, ‘logistics’ of my sex life in a manner that would make Cosmo’s most seasoned agony aunt blush. Sometimes even more frustrating is the non-consensual touching I experience in ways unique to my tininess; a pat on the head here, an intrusive lift-me-up-and-spin-me-round there. And that’s not to mention the constant undermining of my authority or the dismissal of my opinions because I’m ‘cute’.
There are other everyday ways in which it can get a bit tiresome having drawn the short straw (sorry) in life’s height lottery, and I don’t just mean physical tiredness from nodding my head politely as yet another distant relative tells me that the best things come in small packages. In restaurants, for example, I’m often handed a kids menu while my 17-year-old sister is left perusing a wine list, and we definitely spent the first 5 years of her life being mistaken for twins (not that my mum’s penchant for matching outfits and haircuts helped – thanks mum). These days, my life is largely spent embroiled in a bitter quest to find big shoes in small sizes so that I may one day peer down from the dizzying heights of five foot. I also remember consistently being told when I was younger that I would reach 17 and have a sudden growth spurt – well, awkward news guys, but it’s been nearly 5 years and I’m still waiting…
But when I’m hiding in tiny spaces or winning limbo competitions it’s hard to care. No, I’m kidding of course, but there are definite upsides to being down low, the excellent facebook status fodder resulting from awkward height-related incidents being just one. People definitely remember and recognise me more easily, and are interested in starting conversations with me, and the endless opportunities for one-line responses to short jokes means I scale new heights with my humour – see?!
Most importantly though, I have no doubt that my height has shaped some of the biggest aspects of my personality: I’m determined and outspoken in a way that I always had to be when I was little(r) to make my voice heard amongst the bigger boys and girls. I’ve learned to assert my authority and respond to dismissive comments because I’ve had no other choice, and I’ve developed a quick-wittedness that’s been necessary to get in there with the jokes before anyone else does. And hey, no VAT on children’s clothes is pretty sweet. For all these things, I’m grateful for every inch of my 4 foot 8 and three quarters frame.
People sometimes ask me if I would ever get another tattoo, and what it would be. If I didn’t think that quote tattoos were really tacky (no offence, be-quoted people of the world), I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute in inking a line from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, where Helena says of Hermia – who is ridiculed for her height throughout the play – “though she be but little, she is fierce”. Of course, I could also just go for the old classics ‘short but sweet’ or ‘the best things come in small packages’ – some might say the opportunities are immeasurable…
Totally kidding with those last two by the way. If anyone ever says them to me again I will bite them in the kneecaps.
Eve Livingston is a fourth year Social Anthropology student at the University of Edinburgh. She’s also the head of Edinburgh’s student radio station: freshair.org.uk. She enjoys watching CSI: Vegas in order and she’s named after the actress Ava Gardner but her dad decided he didn’t like Ava – so she’s Eve. On occasion she writes award winning feminist articles.
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