Sizeism does matter if you don’t measure up to popular notions of the ‘ideal’ height


Racism, sexism, ageism … those of us wanting to build a better planet try to be aware of this stuff and not replicate the mistakes of the past.

Surprisingly, the concept of sizeism never seems to make it into even the most enlightened journals or contemporary discussions about “correctness”, prejudice and who might be offending whom.

The majority of humanity is only a tad over 1.52m — and we’re getting shorter. Bear in mind that more than half of us are women and, thanks to modern medicine, there are considerably more children and older people than before. And most of the human race is Chinese or Indian, nations that are unlikely to embrace basketball as their national sport.

Large men are, let’s face it, no longer needed, except for the occasional modern gladiator blood sport such as rugby. Back in the days of hand-to-hand combat, giants were rather useful but, with the invention of guns, the playing field levelled considerably — even Arnie would probably have handed over his dosh had he been held up by armed robbers on his recent visit to South Africa.

Big guys are also environmentally unfriendly. They take up too much space and consume far more food and water than the rest of us. Their clothes and shoes require more cotton and leather, and ask those charged with domestic responsibilities which shirt is easier to wash, hang and iron: the large one or the small one?

Despite the many disadvantages of being tall, such as having to endure extremely uncomfortable international flights, popular culture still touts the large male as desirable. From the days of John Wayne right through to modern oafs like Keanu Reeves, it’s the tall guy who pulls the broads and kicks baddies’ butts.

No boy in his right mind, if he were given a choice of being tall or short, would choose to be a pint-sized adult.

Being only slightly taller than a dwarf myself, but not nearly as stocky, I experienced the worst side of larger boys while at school. Thankfully, in these pleasant days of democracy and middle age, I seldom encounter such barbarism. Since 1994, I have been assaulted only twice.

Some of my best friends are big guys. Recently, a gentle giant leapt to my aid as I struggled to hitch my trailer. My own sizeism only comes to the fore today when a tall man patronises me, as if being small somehow implies I have a smaller intellect. “Sorry, I should have tried harder to grow to your height and its inherent wisdom,” I feel like retorting, but I have learned to hold my tongue. Of course, you get assholes in all sizes — some of them tyrants. 

The “small man” syndrome, also known as poison dwarfism, may have been behind Hitler waging war on the entire world. I read recently that he also suffered from hypospadias — an extremely tiny manhood — and this must have added considerable fuel to his complex.

Shortass Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who modelled himself on the poison dwarf Napoleon, proclaimed himself “Emperor” of the Central African Republic in 1976. His idea of cleaning up the streets of Bangui was to drop its beggars into rivers from aircraft.

He enjoyed feeding his enemies to lions and crocs and was only deposed after … well, google it if you haven’t eaten recently.

My own vengeance on the world for being height disadvantaged consisted of shooting hundreds of birds with my pellet gun while a youth, but then again, I have never been the president of a republic.

Large women, like small men, have been historically disadvantaged. As fashions shifted about what’s too fat or too thin, the fair sex have, for centuries, been shoving things in their bras, squeezing into corsets and forcing their feet into odd shoes to appropriate the “correct” size breast, waist or foot.

Having an unusual physical shape means wearing the scars of sizeism. We’re all supposed to pop out of the same size mould and, if we don’t, we may waste a large part of our lives on feeling rotten about ourselves or trying vainly to change the body we were born with.

I remember as a teenager buying protein powder and pushing weights in an effort to attain 50kg, and a girl I knew bought powder from the same company to stay trim. One day, we compared the labels and found the ingredients on the bottles (blue for me and pink for her) were practically identical.

On a more serious note, I think I have finally discovered where all those tall people work. It’s at shoe factories, where they hold secret meetings at midnight, when it’s full moon, and there decide on which size men’s shoes to manufacture.

Short guys will back me up on this, I promise you; the only sizes these dudes ever make are their own.

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Derek Davey
Derek Davey

Derek Davey is a sub-editor in the Mail & Guardian’s supplements department who occasionally puts pen to paper. He has irons in many metaphysical fires – music, mantras, mortality and mustaches.


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