The other night, while high Googling before bed, I got to thinking about the Bushes, in general, and Barbara Bush, in particular. I told my husband about how I think she cuts quite an intimidating figure and he agreed. So, I wondered, how tall is this woman who bedded down with one former president and birthed another? And also is Jeb’s mom? I asked Siri, and she returned with this:
Siri claims Barbara Bush is four feet tall.
If Siri is right, the entire Bush family is Lilliputian and our government has been covering it up for decades. That, or Barbara herself is only four feet tall, and the Bush family was worried about response to her height early on in her husband’s political career and has enacted a massive conspiracy to trick the general public into believing she’s around the same height as the rest of the family. Before you start saying that’s impossible, remember: this is the family that made George W. Bush President of the United States of America. “Impossible” is not a word in their vocabulary. Whatever the truth is, this goes all the way to the top.
The next morning, completely sober, I scoured the web for information about Barbara Bush’s height, but couldn’t find anything credible. Not certain I hadn’t made the whole thing up, I returned to Siri and asked again. Same answer: “Barbara Bush is 4' tall.”
One odd thing did stand out, though: Siri claimed that her fact about Jeb’s mom’s height was from Wikipedia, but when I went to Wikipedia, I couldn’t find this information, and neither could I find evidence that someone had tampered with it. In fact, Barbara Bush’s height wasn’t mentioned at all on Wikipedia, and it never had been. Huh.
Further, when I then asked Siri the heights of other Presidents and First Ladies, she returned with links to information from Wikipedia or Wolfram Alpha, and didn’t speak the answers aloud, as she did with Barbara Bush. Also, if you were to ask how tall, say, Hillary Clinton is, Siri says she’s “checking” and takes a moment before she returns with the page, but with Barbara Bush, her answer is almost instantaneous. The one exception is Siri has no idea how tall George W. Bush is.
This was getting me nowhere, so I switched tactics. Maybe through examining some widely available photos of the former FLOTUS, I could get some answers. Instead, what I got was more questions. In photo after photo, it was impossible to tell her actual height.
I asked Eliot Sirota, a special effects artist working at the company Fonco in Glendale, California, for a second opinion. (I may use a lot of filters on Snapchat, but I’m no professional.) I asked Sirota if it’s possible to make, say, a four foot tall person appear to be around 5'6" in photos and moving pictures. To my surprise, he said it was no problem, and that special effects artists employ a variety of techniques to achieve these results. Well, this just got very interesting.
“In camera, there are infinite ways to do it,” he told me. “Probably the most common technique is apple boxes; they keep them on set just so short actors look taller by standing on them.”
Oh, like in this photo of Barbara Bush with Hillary Clinton?
Who can say?
Sirota also mentioned that photographers and camera people will often use forced perspective to get the results they want—for example, in the beginning of the first Lord of the Rings movie, Sir Ian McKellan and Elijah Wood appear to be vastly different heights simply because of their relation to the camera, and the design of the cart they sat in.
Could that technique have been used in this photo of Barbara Bush and these very tiny dogs (which could very easily be Hummel figurines, or the like)?
Or in this photo where, I’m starting to believe, Nancy Reagan was forced to spend the evening crouched in position next to Barbara to maintain the illusion?
Who can say?
Photographer Roberto Valenzuela echoed Sirota, and added that shooting-angles and lenses can work magic. To shoot a very short person, Valenzuela told me he would “choose a relatively wide lens such as a 50mm or even a 35mm lens. The wider the lens, the more distortion will occur. A 50mm lens will provide a good balance, but a 35mm lens would definitely be more effective in making a short person appear taller.” I’m not sure what all that means, but it sounds very effective.
And that’s just practical stuff!
When you consider effects and post-production, the possibilities are truly staggering. Sirota brings up the relevant example of Marvel’s Ant-Man to explain how truly limitless the technology is. He mentions things I don’t really understand but trust to be true because this is his profession, like digital doubles, compositing, motion capture (MOCAP), and fully computer generated characters such as the Na’vi in Avatar. At this point in my conversation with Sirota, I’m starting to think there’s not a zero-percent chance Barbara Bush is fully CGI. It’s not likely, I’ll grant you that, but it’s not impossible. And if anyone’s gonna have an all-access pass to this sort of stuff, wouldn’t it be government of the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world?
But what about people who have seen her in person? Sirota said that’s harder to fake, but it’s possible, especially when you employ things like vertical stripes on clothing.
OH LIKE IN THIS PHOTO OF BARBARA?
When I asked if vertical stripes could make a four foot tall person appear to be 5'5"; Sirota said no. He guesses it could get that person to about 4’6”, but of course, there’s always lifts and stilts as possibilities. It’s crazy that we live in a world where former First Lady Barbara Bush might be adept at walking on stilts, but here we are!
If all this is true, and I have no reason to question Sirota’s expertise, there must be other techniques. Like, say, sitting—which Barbara Bush is often seen doing in photos. Here she is at left, once again, sitting. (Or is she?)
And in this photo of the entire Bush family, in which the only person standing and whose feet can be clearly seen is Columba Bush, Jeb’s wife, who is widely believed to be five feet tall. (Of course, knowing what I know now, I have to question this claim, too.)
Sirota (who, by the way, didn’t even flinch when I brought up the fact that Siri says Barbara Bush is four feet tall) said psychology could also play into it. Barbara Bush is a larger-than-life figure for many of us, and so maybe we’ve been seeing, with our eyes, that she is only four feet tall, while in our minds, we have imbued her with such great power that she appears to be of average height.
I asked former Jezebel writer Mark Shrayber, who also holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and teaches it at the university level, whether this might be possible due to the esteem we hold in our hearts for the former First Lady.
“That would be a mass delusion and she isn’t that charismatic,” Mark replied, which, frankly, is just one man’s opinion, and probably a wrong one at that.
I was no closer to finding out her actual height, and so I reached out to the supposed experts at The National First Ladies’ Library. The woman who answered said she didn’t know Barbara Bush’s height, but that the information could be found in her biography on their website. Having already looked, I knew the information wasn’t there, but she said she’d look for herself, and who was I to object?
“Birthday, June 8th; Father, Marvin Pierce. Physical appearance, here we are! Oh wait… I’m not seeing it. Hmm. Oh, I bet it’s on the Bush Library website!”
She checked, and it was not.
“That’s odd,” she continued. (I agree.) “We have a dress of hers, but that’s not really a great way to tell. Now I’m curious, let me dig around…”
I sat in silence for several minutes, while the person on the other end frantically tapped at her keyboard, either truly baffled or covering something up.
“Huh. I’m not finding it, I’m trying to think who I could transfer you too? Oh! Try her foundation. They have to know.”
So I called Barbara Bush’s foundation.
I told the woman who answered that I was a writer working on a piece about Barbara Bush and I was trying to find out her height. She asked me to hold. The phone rang again and another woman answered. Our conversation went like this:
“Hi, I’m working on a piece about Barbara Bush and I’m trying to find out her height. Do you know it?”
“Who is this?”
“My name is Laura Beck and I’m a freelance writer.”
“And who is this piece for?”
“And why do you want to know again?”
“Because I can’t find the information anywhere.”
“Can you please hold?”
“Oh, I’ve got all day. Do you?”
“Huh? OK, one sec.”
The phone rang again and yet another woman picked up and introduced herself as Lauren. Lauren asked me some similar questions about who I am and who I’m with and why do I so badly want to know Barbara Bush’s height. I’d now been on the horn with the foundation for over seven minutes. I can’t lie; the thought that they might be tracing my call crossed my mind. After some further questioning, Lauren told me something that may or may not be the truth: She had no idea how tall Barbara Bush is. She shared that she had a giant cardboard cutout of Jeb’s mom in her office and that she’d often wondered if it was to scale. She told me she’d call Barbara’s assistant and get back to me “sometime soon.” I assumed I’d never hear from her again.
An hour later, I heard back from Lauren. Apparently that’s how long it took for her team to come up with some sort of official answer. Lauren told me the official story is that Barbara Bush is 5’3” now, but during her time as First Lady, she was 5’8”. The logical next step: I needed to talk to a doctor about whether or not this strange math added up. After all, how much can a person shrink as they age?
Dr. Malcolm Thaler, a primary care physician at One Medical in New York, told me people do lose height as they age, primarily from flattening (dehydration) of their intervertebral discs and increasing curvature of the spine as their back muscles and ligaments become less supportive. The average woman loses about two inches in height by age 70, men about one inch (although men will catch up by age 80 or so).
I asked if it’s possible to go from the somewhere in the high five feet-range to four feet tall, and he said no. And when I asked if it’s possible to grow taller as you age, he told me that’s impossible.
This left me no choice but to invoke the Sherlock Holmes principle: when you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever answer remains must be correct, no matter how improbable—something like, say, robot legs? I asked him if some sort of technology exists in which, for example, a knee replacement could give a person Inspector Gadget-style knees—a hack that could grow or shrink their height on command. As you’ll note in photo below (and in all other photos of Barbara Bush), her knees are never exposed.
He replied that, alas, he was not aware of Inspector Gadget knees. I wasn’t surprised: Why would he tell me the truth? I’m sure the second I alerted the Bush camp to my theories, they sprang into action (see photo below).
At this point, the only thing a reasonable person could assume is Barbara Bush might actually be four feet tall, and that there is some sort of governmental cover-up involved. Now that the Bush’s familial power is waning—they weren’t even able to get Jeb the nomination or keep Billy gainfully employed!!—the truth is starting to come out. And someone within Apple appears to be trying to spread the truth. Obviously, I had to speak to this person or persons (perhaps even Siri herself?).
First, I emailed Tim Cook and waited. Ten minutes passed with no response, and so I moved onto his minions—Apple’s customer care.
After a 30 minute wait, a man named Jay answered. He had a comforting southern twang and, although I could not see them, kind eyes and a good heart. I crossed out the question, “Do you believe, as Randy Newman does, that short people got no reason to live?” and decided to be straight with him. I told Jay I found a fact on Siri that I couldn’t trace to anywhere else: Barbara Bush is four feet tall.
He said, “Really? Huh. Let’s see. That’s interesting. I’m about to look.”
As he’s typing, I ask Jay if he believe Siri has any political biases. He responds, “Huh.”
I ask if it’s possible Siri has become self-aware and is somehow answering on her own. He tells me no, she’s always gonna pool from a database somewhere and that she has definitely not become sentient.
“Huh. Let’s see. Hmmm...Siri, how tall is Barbara Bush?”
(Siri mumbles about a Barbara nuclear waste facility, or some shit. Classic Siri.)
This time, louder: “Siri, how tall is Barbara Bush?”
Siri: “Barbara Bush is four feet tall.”
Jay: “Huh. Well, it looks like she got that information on Wikipedia.” I tell Jay it’s not on Wikipedia and he has to see for himself.
I hear him read aloud half of Barbara Bush’s Wikipedia page. As soon as he gets to, “See also: awards—,” the phone goes dead. You can’t make this shit up, my friends!!!
Ten minutes later, Jay calls back; his voice is now more serious... and, you guessed it, more robotic. “He” stiltedly tells me, “I’m not sure where Siri gets her answers,” and also, “Can I help you with anything else today?”
And that’s that. I still have no fucking clue how tall Barbara Bush is and now I’m pretty sure Siri is Skynet with a boner for the Bushes. I went into this thinking that figuring out Barbara Bush’s height would be easy—that the answer wouldn’t require cagey phone calls, dodged questions, and suspicious “facts.”
At a loss, I returned to the Internet once more, this time to Bing. (If we are to believe anything, we must believe that Bing wouldn’t be in on any conspiracies—I mean, come on, that’s just hilarious to even consider I’m personally dying over here lololol.) And so I Binged my question.
The search engine directed me to Answers.com. The response took my breath away.
Welp, there you have it. Former First Lady Barbara Bush is exactly six feet tall, and if you ever hear me saying any differently, please know they got to me, too.