“The one noticeable similarity with almost all serial killer victims is their short height and low weight.” – Pat Brown
Throughout the course of my life, I cannot count the number of times that someone, a friend, relative or acquaintance, has randomly turned to me, looked down and chuckling slightly, told me: “Oh, you’re so small!” (the exclamation mark is crucial.) Over the years, I have learned to respond to such insightful observations by smiling, nodding, and changing the subject, since arguing with people larger than me can lead to dire circumstances, as I discovered multiple times throughout elementary school. [Note to self: never reply to a five-foot nine, 170 pounder fifth grader calling you short with a condescending sniff and the words “I prefer to call myself vertically challenged.”] To protect myself, physically and perhaps mentally, as well as to maintain a semblance of normalcy, therefore, I have internalized the frustration, resentment and possibly aggressive tendencies in myself when replying to such statements. But the fault lies not only with these people but also in my own genes, my own physique. Although there are some advantages to my height and my low weight, I’ve struggled with the disadvantages of my build for a very long time now, and now I’ve come to the point where that struggle itself is a part of my character, a bit of my personality. And as any petite person would tell you, this struggle is clearly a weighty one.
Distant as it may seem to me now, there was once a time when I was not the shortest person in any given time or place, when I was not towered over by everyone in the vicinity. Ah, what I would give for a return to those glorious days of pre-kindergarten, those days when I was, far from being the shortest, the tallest child in my class, the days when I felt no need to crane my neck to see the blackboard, when I could claim the most space on the rug during naptime. Sadly not only did my year at pre-school pass by rapidly, so too did my height-related dominance over my peers. By the time I entered kindergarten, I found that everyone had already caught up to my height, and some were even growing beyond it. I realized that I was no longer special, the tallest person—now I was simply average. A year later, my status had degenerated even further, and this time permanently, I was now among the shortest of the class. Sure, I was growing, but more slowly than everyone else in my class, and no growth spurt ever happened to me, even long after first grade. I felt utterly and completely degraded—I was now universally designated short. And so began the saga of my stature.
As time progressed, another issue developed: my weight. Just as with my height, there was once a time when I was not nearly as thin as I am today, even if I don’t remember those times myself. According to my parents, my elder brother and old baby pictures, I was born a very chubby baby with unsettlingly large eyes and a shock of straight black hair. I remained rather plump in figure until I turned three years old, after which my body steadily decreased, weight-wise, to the point where my figure is today. My parents could discern no real reason for my odd weight loss and thus simply let me be as I grew older. At present, honestly, I have less of a problem with my weight than with my height: it is simply the way people respond to my skinniness that truly upsets me.
To many people, being skinny is a goal, a dream to be attained through copious amounts of exercise and the ingestion of many disgusting nutrient shakes. But we skinny people, it is not as though we are completely comfortable in our own bodies, as many seem to assume. We have our own self-image problems just like people with other body shapes. And sometimes, being thin disadvantages you by causing others to make harsh, unfounded judgments about you. For example, during the unit in 8th Grade Health class about eating disorders, people constantly asked me if I was anorexic. While those who asked me may not have seen the question as offensive, it hurt my feelings all the same, even when said in jest by my friends. In truth, I am the farthest thing from anorexic since I have neither the will-power nor the stamina to starve myself for any amount of time. I also love food and eating so much that I’m frequently the last one at the dinner table due to my penchant of savoring my food very slowly. Yet at least with my weight, I totally understand and accept that I am thin, that there is nothing really to be done about it even if I wanted to change it—as I stated before, it is really only people’s perception of my skinniness that annoys me. But it’s my height that I truly want to have the ability to change, my height that I have the most problems with.
Among these problems, a central one has been the fact that I can never fully bring myself to accept my height as reality. Friends will compare their heights to with me and I’ll lie, say that I am in fact taller than them—it’s just the two inch heel on their boots, I’ll insist, even if they’re not wearing boots or that the extra inch is just caused by their puffy hair, the way they’re standing. I can’t admit to myself that I’m exactly four feet eleven and a quarter tall because in the strange, convoluted way in which I think, admitting it to myself will only serve to make me feel smaller, like less of a person. And so I never accept it and I never admit it, choosing instead to compensate for my lack of impressive physical presence by making my personality as bold and bizarre as possible, even if I only show that side of myself to close friends and family.
Other disadvantages of having a slight figure include condescending assumptions about me, and the view that somehow, because I am shorter and skinnier than most people, I am also physically weaker than others. The most obvious drawback includes simple things such as being blocked by taller people, inability to reach high objects, and practical aspects like these. While such simple drawbacks may seem like nothing very important, they are not only inconvenient but they lead to stereotypes by which short people such as myself are often judged by. For example, because of my inability to easily reach objects on high shelves, taller people may assume that I am helpless and in need of aid, while in fact I can easily solve the problem by pulling up a stool and standing on it. Another major disadvantage, my least favorite one, is the perception of most that I am much younger than I truly am—I am 16 years old but ask any of my parents’ coworkers or friends, or even some relatives and they will say that I’m not a day over 12. I realize that people who assume I am younger than I really am often do not mean to be condescending, but it stings all the same. While some people have told that it’s a good thing because I’ll look younger when I’m in my forties and fifties, I’d honestly much rather simply look my age now. In addition, the potential number of things I can do to look older is limited, i.e. using makeup, occasionally tottering around in heels, drawing in fake wrinkles, buying “mom jeans” and wearing shoulder pads, etc. Thus, there are several annoying physical disadvantages that come along with the petite figure—drawbacks that, sadly, I will probably not outgrow for quite a while.
That is not to say that there are absolutely no benefits to my short height and low weight. Among other advantages, my figure lends me natural stealth and an ability to get away with things easily. Firstly, it’s extremely easy for me to sneak out of the house (not that I’d ever do such an, er, unthinkable deed.) Unlike larger people who would probably lumber around loudly and awkwardly, I can move quickly, gracefully and quietly throughout a space, attributes that would help me excel in sports if I didn’t have the hand-eye coordination of a drunken dingbat. My small size also enables me to maneuver through a crowd and fit into tight spaces when needed. Another advantage is the ease with which I can get away with things, since people, even my parents, are generally much less suspicious of short, baby-faced teenagers when considering possible suspects for crimes or minor offenses, and if by some chance, someone does catch me in the act of stealing the last cookie from the jar, my best “puppy eyes” look will suffice, I believe.
So do the benefits of being short outweigh the drawbacks? I have no idea. At this point I’m simply attempting to figure out the highly serious issue of whether it’s more important to get free candy and coloring books from every neighborhood restuarant or to be treated as an equal individual in society. At the moment, I’m leaning towards the candy, but within the next minute I might just change my mind and proclaim that height equality is the next big civil rights movement. Regardless, I’d like to declare that, yes, I know I’m short and skinny, and I may still be considering the advantages versus the disadvantages, but no, I’m not inferior to anyone because of my stature and I never will be. And to all the potential serial killers out there with a love for reading high school student essays—I’d just like to make it very clear that this whole essay is in fact a well-fabricated lie and that I’m actually six foot four, extremely muscular and highly proficient in martial arts. Thank you.
Age 16, Grade 11
Hunter College High School