Sunday, April 7, 2024

In praise of short men

Years ago I read a story. It seems a Vegas showgirl, who stood a stately five-foot-eleven-inches in height, was regularly met at the stage door by a man who was barely five-foot-six. He always brought a dozen roses and a charming smile, and would ask if she'd like to go out to dinner with him. Concerned about their differences in height, she gently turned him down, over and over.

Undeterred, the man would appear evening after evening – not pushing or harassing, simply asking. Finally she said "yes" and he took her out to dinner.

They had an astounding amount in common, fell in love, and got married. At the time I read the story, they'd been married something like twenty years and couldn't be happier.

I've seen a similar story in action. One of my best friends from elementary school, Annette, was the daughter of Danish immigrants. She is tall and blond, with dazzling blue eyes. Annette grew and grew until she was six feet in height. We parted ways after high school, but kept in touch. She met a man from Morocco: dark, fifteen years her senior, widowed, and at least ten inches shorter than her. Don and I had moved to Oregon by this point, and I traveled down to their wedding where I met the groom for the first time. He was cheerful and outgoing, a truly joyous man. Later, when I showed Don the wedding pictures I took, he asked, "She's not standing on a box?" The height difference was truly amazing. Annette has been happily married to her groom for nearly 30 years now.

Another story: Don and I have some friends in Portland, Mike and Patricia. Both divorced from their first spouses fairly young, and they met each other in their 30s. She's five-foot-ten, and he's actually shorter than I am (Mike may have a form of dwarfism, I don't know, but he's not even five feet tall). They're been happily married longer than Don and I.

I mention these stories because of an article I just stumbled across, a truly horrifying article about how many men are undergoing extraordinarily painful and expensive (average is $100,000) surgeries to lengthen their legs and add inches to their height. I found the article horrifying not so much because of the graphic description of how the surgery was performed as much as why these men felt compelled to have the surgery to begin with.

Here are a few snippets from the article:

"I noticed that taller people just seem to have it easier," [said John, one of the patients]. He shrugs. "The world seems to bend for them. ... People just look at you differently when you're tall. I already get a lot more looks at the gym."

When I [the author's article] first called up Dr. D [the surgeon], he told me that business has been booming: Since the onset of the pandemic's work-from-home era, the LimbplastX Institute has been seeing twice its normal number of patients, and sometimes as many as 50 new people a month. That claim is backed up by a BBC report suggesting that hundreds of men in the U.S. are now undergoing the procedure every year.

But male height, particularly the absence of it, is one of the last social stigmas, as if the new rules of body positivity fail to apply vertically. Short guys aren't so much discriminated against as they are precluded from stuff: like dating certain taller people, or making your frosh-soph basketball team. According to a 2009 study of Australian men, short guys make less money than their taller peers (about $500 a year per inch); are less likely to climb the corporate ladder (according to one survey, the average height of a male Fortune 500 CEO is six feet); and, for the cis and straight among us, have fewer romantic opportunities with women (a 2013 study conducted in the Netherlands found that women were taller than their male partners in just 7.5 percent of cases).

Originally just under five feet six, Alan [another patient] never really thought of himself as short until a girl he had "a super big crush on, like, roasted me for it" in college. This instilled in him a deep insecurity that ultimately prompted him to get his femurs done in February.

It's Alan's example that ticks me off the most. How many short men undergo this painful surgery because some twit of a woman couldn't appreciate him due to his height? Many men, it seems, developed an inferiority complex after rejections from women, which is just plain cruel.

My dad (who is currently 88 years old) was a brilliant engineer. As a young man, he worked for Cornell Aeronautical Lab (later called Calspan) in Buffalo, New York. He either directly worked on, or was peripherally involved in, satellite technology (one of his satellites is now in the Smithsonian) and very early artificial intelligence (this would be in the mid to late 1960s). Later, he started his own research company (later bought out by Westinghouse) that involved additional groundbreaking technology. My dad is five-foot-seven inches in height, and was a giant in his field. I heard him discuss his height as it impacted his career literally never.

Don stands five-foot-six (compared to my five-foot-two). He's the perfect height for me. He also exudes quiet confidence, strength of character, and commands respect in every endeavor. As he puts it, "I look everyone in the eye" – no matter how tall they are.

In fact, both Don's and my extended families are short going back multiple generations. We jokingly tell our girls they have to be careful whom they marry, since we can't risk any tall genes getting into the family. Personally I find the compact efficiency of short men rather sexy.

That's why I was sorry to read about all those men who felt compelled to undergo the drastic surgeries to add inches to their height. What a crying shame they feel the need.

They say there's someone for everyone. I'm just glad I found Don, all five-foot-six of him.


  1. My son-in-law is maybe 5' 7". I don't know if he's ever been teased about his height. In highschool he played and excelled at many sports including basketball and volleyball. No problem spiking that ball over the net. He's now a prosecutor and carries that confidence into the court room. My daughter would tease about wearing high heels next to him to be taller and he honestly doesn't care.
    I had never heard about this latest surgical "craze" and it makes me sad as well as sick inside. My question is if this is relatively new, what sort of physical problems might surface further down the road. Bone and joint issues, osteoarthritis, etc

  2. My 5’6” daughter preferred dating men who were only 3 or 4 inches taller than she or occasionally one who was her height. Then, on a blind date, she met a guy who was 6’5”. Love happened. Of their two daughters one is 5’5” and the other 5’11”. Genes are sometimes going to go their own way.

  3. It is a shame they feel the need. I also think that if they are insecure to the point that they will undergo an extreme procedure like that, they have a LOT of issues to address within and it goes beyond how a woman made them feel about their height. The “short king” phenomenon where short men embrace their height and actually date TALLER women is awesome, frankly.

  4. Even more common than men surgically adding to their leg length, is all the young boys on growth hormones. Their parents think it will help them in their adulthood.

    About 40 years ago I worked with a lovely and brainy woman whose parents wanted her to be a model, but as an almost-teen she was only 5'7. They found a doctor who would prescribe human growth hormones, and she grew to 6" 3. She did have several years as a model, but went on to other work. She was mid-thirties when we met and the bones in her back had actually been breaking.... she was on pain meds constantly.

  5. I have read about this surgery and worried what would happen to these men's bodies later. I also wondered what other issues these guys had. I am 5' 7.5". I never liked dating taller me. However, the men who were shorter than I had other personality problems that were immediately evident. They blamed women for their problems of being short and rejecting them. I preferred not to have a man so evidently nasty about his height. When I met Tommy, he was barely taller than I am but insisted he was shorter than I. We stood in front of a mirror, and he is taller by a little. He is brilliant. I don't feel like the smartest person in the room. Smarts matter to me! I don't think he thinks about his height and blames bad things on his height.

    1. I meant that I did not like dating shorter than I am. I dated a guy who I was crazy about. Then he proved himself so dumb that it made me dizzy. At that point, I was the smartest person in the room. So, smarts do matter. Height does not. I certainly did not explain myself very well in that comment.

  6. I love this article! I am a mom to a teenage boy, who so far is only 5'2". Personality-wise, he outshines any room, so I think he'll be ok if he's not very tall. But, I have a friend who is 6'1", and flat out refuses to date a shorter man. She is in her 50's and single, still searching/waiting for her 6'5" knight. Did I mention that I love this post?

  7. Don't blame women for men feeling lesser because they're short. Men are nastier about it than women. (I come from a tall family. I'm six feet, my dad was six three, and my son is six five. My daughter is shrimpy at 5' 1''.)

  8. Replies
    1. Bwahaha. For a moment I was going to say, "Your poor daughter!"

      - Patrice

  9. I am 5' tall & my husband 6'. We have 5 children as they grew they would say, "Mom, I am taller than you." I would reply, "Get taller than Dad then we can talk." The youngest ended up just over 6'.

    So sad they think they need surgery to get taller.
    Debbie in MA

  10. My hubby and I own a military surplus store and have employed several young brothers from a local family. We love them like our own! shortly after the start of the war in Irag one of them enlisted. He commented on day before his first deployment that he was worried because he was not very beg. I told him, "you are the biggest man I know". He's almost 40 now, married and a State Trooper after retiring from the army. He has parents and family that love him and always expected he could do anything. We are happy to be his friends!

  11. At just under 5' I missed Vietnam in 1971 by 1/2". Its not how tall you are on the outside, but on the inside that counts. My dad was 5' mom was 5'1 but my brother took after moms side and is 5'10. Go figure.

  12. Hus. and I are average heights for our age group... only he is the average height for the opposite gender, as am I. We spent time playing cards at college, so we weren't standing during those times. Our kids were from my height to 6' (which there is height on both sides of the family somewhere... including my mom's cousins who were 6' 8")
    Dear Hus. calls me the "little woman" (actually I started that one...)