Stop Telling Me To Love Being Tall
Although I'm 24 and have lived in New York for over two years now, I still have a Florida Driver's License with a photo from 2009. I was 16 then, and my hobbies included things like writing poetry at Starbucks while waiting for my mom to come pick me up and complaining that I would die alone. I had side-swept bangs, didn't know how to use makeup, and was 6 feet tall — as I have been since I was about 14. I didn't like being tall. I hated it. And, frankly, the idea of being being beyond the 5-foot range was truly problematic to me. Impossible, even. Unacceptable. All this is to say: If you look at my Florida license these days, it still says 5'11 under height.
To my credit, I'm not that far off from 5'11 in reality. The last time I got an official measurement, the doctor said I was 5'11 and three-quarters. Obviously, at 16, I chose to interpret this stat as an opportunity to stay 5'11 forever. "I mean, he didn't even mention 6 feet," I thought to myself, triumphant.
The thing about being me and being tall is that it's not just that I shot up one summer (do people actually do that? why is that an expression?). I've always been tall. In my mind, I basically came out of the womb 6-feet tall. Thankfully for my mom, this was not actually the case. But it may as well have been in my mind. Tallest one in my class, taller than all the boys. "Do you play basketball, volleyball, do you row?" "You know, models are tall." And the one phrase that I was told about being tall year after year by friends and family and random grocery store cashiers: "You'll love it one day."
Of course, as any teenager is, I was skeptical of most things adults had to tell me, but especially comments about my height. Whenever people would remark about just how tall I was, I would shrink back. I wanted to flatten myself and blend into the wall, turn to jelly and disappear into the carpet. I'm sure most people would sense this, so they would inevitably follow it up with the, "Oh, don't worry, you'll love it one day" speech. As if if I didn't actively adore my height one day, I had somehow lost. Of course, the concept of loving something one day that I saw as such a never-ending, life-altering annoyance seemed like a massive stretch. But something in me held onto the promise, anyway. If so many people were telling me, it had to be true, right? I needed it to be true.
As I got older, I stopped writing poetry at Starbucks. I traveled and met new people and wrote more. I got a job. I got busy. I built a life that had nothing at all to do with me being tall. Suddenly and not so suddenly at all, my height just didn't seem as important as it once had — isn't that how most teenage insecurities work? But the less I cared about how tall I was, the more I realized that that thing I was told all my life never actually happened. I'm 24, still about 6 feet tall, and I don't think about my height that much at all anymore. But that doesn't mean I love it.
The thing is that despite what I told myself growing up, being tall means nothing at all about anything. It doesn't mean I'm an all-star basketball player, or that I want to play beach volleyball with you (literally never ask me this, I beg of you). It doesn't mean I'm a model. All the qualifiers that adults gave me over the years to get me to like being tall — well-intentioned as they were — were pointless. People always seemed to feel compelled to find something tangible and good to attach my height to, as if it wasn't good enough for me to just exist as is. No one ever told me, "It's just not that important," when the truth is that it isn't now, and wasn't then. Even though I knew I wasn't going to be a model, or an all-star athlete when I was growing up, I always thought I had a shot at loving this frustrating, awkward aspect of myself — and that, to me, seemed like a weird sort of success.
I now realize that this feeling — the loving of this physical part of myself I once hated — is because, for women, there is this strange conflated pressure in loving yourself, perfecting yourself, and also perfectly loving yourself. But if every day I have to navigate both "perfecting" myself, per societal standards, but also perfectly "loving" that which I can't perfect per those same absurd standards, then I will always fail. There is no winning in that at all.
All of this is not to say I hate or even dislike being tall — because I don't, not anymore. But I don't love it in the way I love being able to make people laugh, or being able to write something that someone can relate to. It just is. I'm tall. But if that's the most remarkable thing about me, or something I need to qualify with any sort of achievement or success — even if that success is weird, performative self-love — then I'm doing something wrong. And if my height is still the very first thing you feel the need to comment on when you meet me, well, then you're doing something wrong, too.