The Power And Politics Of Height

I was intrigued by the amount of interest and opinions voiced in last week’s posts about height, which led me to think that there was more on this topic than is usually discussed. When I think about height, it is usually in terms of style. As the fashion industry tends to favor the long of limb, I am not always thrilled by my lack of inches. What I found particularly interesting was that most of you who said you were short did so with pride and without fashion phobias. Clearly I was not on the same page as everyone else, so I began talking to women in all ranges of the height spectrum to see how they felt about their height and why. The results were staggering: women viewed height in the context of power and politics. Many women I talked to didn’t see their height aesthetically. If they lamented their tendency toward the tiny, it was that they would be seen as only having the capability of a child or would somehow be considered less responsible. Women have been in the workplace for decades now, and one would be hard pressed to not have seen some article on how to dress appropriately for the office. Indeed, women are no strangers on how to present themselves in a professional manner, but the problem arises when there are uncontrollable physical factors at play. Professional hair and makeup, easy. Professional clothing, a cinch. Professional height…what does that even mean?

I asked women why they felt shortness was a hindrance at the work place. The common answer was surprising: the male Napoleonic complex and obsession with height rages on and women felt their height didn’t match the professional and powerful ideal. For some undecipherable reason, power is still equated with height. The women I spoke with sensed an awareness that male colleagues registered their height, or more accurately, appearance. While few could pinpoint any specific point when there height was mentioned or made an issue, most felt that it was floating in the background, or at least in the employer’s subconscious.

The greatest fear seemed to be that in a snap decision, a shorter woman would be overlooked or not get chosen for a certain task. Any boss worth her salt wouldn’t actively discriminate over height, but some wondered if the height bias was unavoidable. Do we use height as a way to size people up?

Right as I was getting ready to froth at the mouth over the injustice of it all, I spoke to a tall Irish girl. She and a few others I spoke to complained that they were discriminated against because their bosses felt threatened by their imposing presence. Yeesh! Short girls feel that their height makes them seem weak and incapable and tall girls felt that their height makes them too intimidating too approach. At the end of the day I am inclined to write off the connection between height and power as more of a personal insecurity issue than a work place discrimination one. We all have crippling insecurities that we are positive the rest of the world must see and judge us by, except, of course, no one but ourselves ever notices. I think height fits into the same category as our other physical traits we are less than thrilled about, and while your boss will probably at one point notice your height, I would be surprised if it ever became a real issue.