The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 19, 2000

Short men, tall troubles
By Manpreet Singh

AN inch of difference in your height makes a world of difference in your life. The world is sure a different place for a man of five feet than it is for a man of six. Researchers are proving the age-old apprehensions right — shorter men miss out on ‘many higher things in life’. Stuck with the "tall-dark-and handsome" image of man, the world does not look sympathetically towards the shorter species.

A new study based on 3,200 cases of healthy men within ages of 25 to 60 in England and Poland confirms the suspicions: Women choose taller men as their mates, if they have a choice. Consideration of man’s stature is active in women’s selection of mating partners. Even while going in for artificial insemination, women express a preference for taller men’s sperms. Also, more children are fathered by taller men than the shorter ones.

  As if romantic disadvantage of being short statured is not enough, another recent extensive study conducted in England on more than 7,000 people over a period of 17 years reveals: "Shorter men are more likely to be poor, obese, smokers and prone to heart disease." Amongst the shortest group, 33 per cent led an active life compared to 42 per cent in the tallest one. The rate of coronary heart ailments was also double in the shorter men.

The British researchers also found that those in the shortest category, 5’5" and under, are less active, less healthy but smoke more and drink more heavily than their taller counterparts in the category of over 5’ 9". The study finds a strong link between height and social deprivation. Short structure perhaps reflects poor nutritional intake during childhood years, feel the researchers.

Another study carried out on 135,000 children in London suggests that shorter children are "less intelligent than their taller peers and are unlikely to do as well at school." Researchers found that the children who were four inches shorter than their peer groups on an average, recorded 13 per cent less on both IQ and verbal reasoning tests and were more likely to need extra help with their schooling.

Studies apart, the real-life experiences of the diminutive men in everyday world can be more revealing. Gray, a five-foot man who met his would-be wife, 5‘ 11" at college — has come out with a unique site on the Internet — Taller women and shorter men. The aim: to provide a place where couples "like us" (taller women shorter men) will feel comfort knowing that they are not the only ones there.

Gray has felt the pain of being short and dating a tall woman. "The stares when we hold hands and when we slow dance really got to us at first. We eventually realised that the people who gawked just were not used to looking at a couple where the woman was taller than the man."

He feels that many meaningful, good relationships do not blossom between shorter men and taller women as people are too conscious of the height difference, and "thinking it goes against society and don’t take a chance". He hopes people would "step beyond the funny stares and accept that not all couples are the same." And curiously, the image of a tall woman beautifully dressed in her long, white bridal robes with flowers in hands stooping down to kiss the shorter groom — the frame on the Gray’s website — makes an interesting picture, even embarrassingly inspiring.

True, it’s a tough world for short statured men, who have to struggle to be accepted as average human beings. The inner high agenda to catch up with the peers works perpetually on their minds. Society’s perception can be real harsh, obvious in the curious, funny looks given by people.

A psychologist presents a case in this context: Rahul’s (name changed) diminutive stature started bringing him ridicule from his friends in the school. A sensitive child, he grew into a reserved, shy and cynical man of 5’ 1". Till today he carries his school-time suicide note in his wallet. The childhood complex of being "little" continues with his posing an image of an indifferent attitude to the world. He has withdrawn into protective seclusion and suffers bouts of frequent depression.

"After all not every one has the strength to laugh at oneself and take their ‘handicap’ as a challenge and turn in into an advantage. Much importance being accorded to height in our society has its roots in the patriarchal structure where height is considered an asset for men. Shorter men are bound to develop complexes, resulting in their attempt to escape reality through vices like extreme drinking and smoking," explains sociologist Dr Ranjay Vardhan. Lack of a socially acceptable height causes non-maturation of matrimonial alliances and breaking of love affairs, adds Dr Vardhan.

Nonetheless, history has its fair share of famous successful tall women-short men couples. But it is the shorter men who stand more prominently. They have carved their names and changed the course of the world events. A discussion on the issue with shorter men always brings out famous names like Alexander the Great, Napolean, even Hitler who were short in physical stature. Shah Rukh Khan and Amir Khan come as the bollywood counterparts to the Hollywood’s Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman as short heroes with largest fan-following. The long list of their higher achievements inspire confidence even in the taller ones.

Prof N.K. Oberoi of the Department of English, Punjab University, sees short stature as a "perpetual incentive to exceed oneself." He argues that most of the literary figures are of an average height, or even a little on the lower side. "To raise their heights, many historical figures have outstripped themselves from time to time. A Hindi poet said that Lal Bahadur Shashtri broke war with Pakistan to raise himself. The experience tells us that shorter men are not at a disadvantage with women. They, in fact, manage to get themselves wanted."

Literature too tells the short-tall relationship tales. In the best Chinese stories’ collection, the story Tall woman and her short husband by Feng Jicai sympathetically captures the tragic situation of such a relationship caught in the ruthless world.

The story reads, "She was seventeen centimetres taller than he.

"One point seven five metres in height, she towered above most of her sex like a crane over chickens. Her husband a bare 1.58 metres, had been nicknamed Shorty at college. He came up to her earlobes but actually looked two heads shorter... The two of them just did not match and formed a marked contrast. But they were inseparable." Eventually, the neighbours’ perception and curiosity which develops into ruthless jealousy due to their funny contrast separates the husband and the wife forever, leading to the wife’s death:

There is certainly a harsh world for shorter men, out there.