Lots of hetero people are hung up on height when it comes to dating. Men, it is assumed, are supposed to be slightly taller than women (average heights in America differ by 5 1/2 inches). They are supposed to, in turn, be big and strong; women are then supposed to be dainty and petite. In the dating process, men and women both perpetuate this notion by eliminating people who won’t help them achieve the status quo visual. But what is to be done?
At the Independent, a woman has written an essay saying that women who won’t date shorter men are as bad as men who won’t date fat women—maybe even worse, because you can at least change your weight but not your height. Charlotte Gill argues that she feels sorry for short men and wants to make a stand for them. It has somehow become perfectly OK, she argues, for women to disparage the short man in public and rule them out on height alone as a romantic prospect. As a result, shorter men are discriminated against on the dating market. They have more trouble getting dates online than taller men, who have been shown in studies to receive more messages.
Gill’s ultimate point is that these women are shallow, which is ironic to her because, as she sees it, women sure do expect men to forgive their many violations of the aesthetic social code. Gill writes:
But what especially vexes me is this double standard of women criticising and making fun of short men, then expecting them to tolerate all different types of weight (which isn’t even a fixed state). For a man to openly reject a woman because he found her fat would be social suicide.
Yet for women to complain about a man’s height is fine, apparently. Hilarious, even. (And they call us the fairer sex…)
It’s not really ok, though, is it? Any more than telling your friends you dismissed someone because they had black hair, or small tits, or anything else that is, undeniably, genetics. And that is, actually, not that big a deal.
The thing is—it is OK to reject people for dumb reasons, or, at least, it’s better to do that than to lie to yourself and that other person about what you want. To begin with: who has the right to tell anyone what their personal criteria for dating can or should be? Moreover, I think that A) men openly reject women for being fat all the time by never dating them in the first place, and B) women are, yes, just as picky, but it’s fine. When it comes to dating, nearly everyone is some form of Garbage Pail Kid somewhere in there. The question is what specifically hideous Garbage Pail flavor. What I’m saying is that we are all dumb, and no one type of physical preference or repulsion is in the abstract better or worse than another—if some preferences, of course, do carry much more social connotation and weight.
So Gill’s not wrong in asking us to stop reflexively falling on someone else’s idea of what a couple should look like, and on this topic, she’s not alone. Recently, writer Ann Friedman put out a call at Esquire for men to date taller women, and for women to date shorter men, because dating is ostensibly about widening your potential pool of prospects, and ruling out people on height alone is bullshit. It’s one thing to have a stated preference for a beard or hair color, she says, but online, people tend to actually filter out everybody who doesn’t meet a certain height criteria, which makes it a “sweeping prejudice masquerading as sexual preference.” This is because, she argues, women have internalized a message about having to be smaller.
To be bigger than men is to worry that you’ll turn them off. Webb found that it isn’t just men lying about their height online, women do, too—to appear shorter. (With good cause: Women over six feet receive forty percent fewer messages on OkCupid than their 5’4” counterparts.) Ask any super-tall woman about her dateless teenage years and the number of times a well-meaning adult said to her, “The boys are just intimidated by you.” Taller is mannish. Taller is… weird.
It is regarded as weird to be a taller than average woman—I can attest. Growing up pale, “too thin” and taller (5’11) than most dudes in the short, tan, blonde hair, big tits worshipping South was not a cakewalk in the boyfriend getting department. Barring a couple exceptions, it wasn’t until I hit college that guys my own age even noticed me, much less approached me with any indication that being taller was actually part of the attraction.
I always equated being taller with being less feminine, although I never actually went the other way with it by insisting on boyfriends being taller than me; most of them were shorter because most men are shorter than me. Had I refused to date men who were shorter, I’d have hardly dated at all.
But this is where I get confused, because whenever we try to politicize attraction to certain physical traits rather than other physical traits, it gets tricky. When talking with someone about their preferences, particularly when they “happen” to be culturally condoned preferences, people tend to get defensive.
Hey, can’t people just be attracted to whatever they like, they argue. Is it really discrimination to prefer a man who is tall, dark, or handsome to a man who is short, pale, and just OK-looking? Alternately, is it really so wrong to want a woman with blonde hair and big tits versus one with brown hair and smaller ones? Is it even shallow, especially when physical attraction is a necessary component of any lasting romantic endeavor? You can’t help attraction! I just like what I like!
Furthermore, what—are we supposed to right social evils through dating more inclusively? Is that anyone’s job? And can you differentiate what you like from what society gives you, not by your own choice, but through chance and circumstance and pattern? Take me, for example: Am I attracted to shorter men because that’s just “what I like,” or is it possible that my so-called deviant height status guided me to consider personality or faces as much or more than heights? Is it possible that likewise, I attracted people who did the same—either liked me for my height or they liked me in spite of it, because they too felt outside conventional norms as well.
Maybe I just got lucky and happened to like shorter men and simultaneously needed to like shorter men. Had I been a shorter, tanner, bigger-titted blonde-haired version of myself, what might I “like” in men? Tall, dark, handsome athletic types? Wish I could find out, but I can’t.
Here’s the thing: On some level we are all shallow when it comes to dating, and that’s nothing to apologize for because it’s how it works. We all like what we like. Attraction is sometimes something that forms out of a lifetime of exposure to one thing or another, the familiar or the novel. Sometimes what you like is inexplicable even to you, but it has a pull on you regardless. It’s all so arbitrary, so specific to the situations and relationships that shape us, the images we all see and embrace or reject.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question it or even go against it on purpose. You can and perhaps should choose to consider another type outside what you like before you think about it. Awareness in most things is typically a good thing, if for no other reason than that it expands your options. Dating is no exception.
This has happened to me by virtue of moving out of the region I grew up in. I’m from an extremely homogenous place with that’s largely white people of European heritage. Moving to Los Angeles has opened my eyes to so much, but on the most shallow level, I have begun to find people attractive from an astonishing variety of cultures I’d never been exposed to before, whether it’s longhaired Filipino hesher dudes on skateboards or sun-baked surfer beefcakes. Before I lived here, I couldn’t have included these traits on any short list of what I “like,” because I’d never been exposed to them. I had a frankly generic idea of what was “hot” that I then revised, happily, with all the new examples of beauty I’d see.
So the answer here then is not to shame anyone’s preferences—most of us come by them honestly—and certainly not to enter them into an Olympics of egregiousness. No shame if your tastes run to the conventional. But in the same way some of us like to examine our privileges and biases, we could also consider why our attractions are what they are, and what forces have shaped them, and simply let ourselves open to other kinds of allure.
It’s kind of like falling in love with someone at work you might’ve never chosen from a lineup of potential dates, but whom you end up being drawn to because you got to know them, be around them, and weren’t so focused on the physical. When you’re willing to suspend your more reflexive assumptions, you can be opened up to so much more, short or tall, in any direction it takes you.
Image of Sally’s internal fears by Columbia Pictures, photoshop by Bobby Finger