Harriot Lane Fox
I’ve been tall all my life. I mean really tall. 5’11” since the age of 11. It’s been something I have had a love hate relationship with from an early age so when Harriot said she’d write a piece about being tall, it sang to me. This wonderful piece makes me nod, laugh and scream in equal measure. Enjoy!
I was scary long before I was fierce. Not on purpose. I didn’t growl or glare – that often. I just grew taller and faster than my friends. When I was 15 a teacher took me aside to warn me people were frightened of me. She said my being 5ft 11ins and a bit meant I had to be especially…nice, was it? Fluffy, girly, cosy? It was the spoonful of sugar that would make me go down better with my peers.
Hearing that as a self-conscious teenager was a whumph in the solar plexus. At home I lived in a tall world; Mum’s family cheerfully described themselves as ‘Brobdignagian’ after the giants in Gulliver’s Travels. My grandmother was 6ft 1ins and my grandfather and uncles were all 6ft 6ins plus or minus half an inch.
I suppose it was useful to know how we were viewed from the outside. I didn’t want to be scary. So I learned to spot when my height was a problem and to dial up the twinkle to compensate – then didn’t think about it any more. Until my daughter began worrying that she was scary too. Whumph all over again! I was instantly frantic, furious, fierce.
She and her friends are eight and nine. Hormones are beginning to trickle through their systems so friendships are more operatic than ever. I suggested she spend time away from her group and make new friends; it’s a big school. This well-meaning mummy advice was more than usually unhelpful. ‘Kids who don’t know me so well think I’m a bully,’ my daughter said.
D is growing like grass after rain, She’s one of the tallest kids in her year (as I always was) despite being almost the youngest. At nearly 145cm – 4ft 9ins – she’s taller than a chimpanzee and in the 99th centile on official growth charts. Her peers are still slight and fragile but our lovely funny girl is a prize-winning calf; bright-eyed, wet-nosed and beautifully made, running around long after others run out of puff.
She and we are so lucky. But there’s not much I can do to make those scaredy kids see that. So I want to get fierce with cultural programming and with thoughtless grown-ups.
We went to the newsagent after D’s bombshell. They’ve known her since before she was born. The chit-chat is always the same; how much ‘bigger’ she is than their nephew. On and on they went, despite me trying to deflect, redirect, stifle, get them to bloody well SHUT UP.
It’s not just them. Height is the last bastion of okay-to-make personal comments. Our eyes and lizard brain automatically register anything different from ourselves. Most of the time social conditioning and a better awareness of diversity means we don’t put the noticing into words. Yet it’s still fine to say: ‘Gosh, you’re tall.’
The system promotes it too. New parents are potty-trained to track their baby’s dimensions, to compare and contrast. I still have D’s red book, with little crosses curving across the growth chart above the top centile. And we expect aunts and grannies to pat our children on the head and coo, ‘my, how you’ve grown!’ They look at my husband (6ft 4ins) and me and say, ‘I can see where you get it from.’
Children may not mind at first, or even notice. But ‘tweens’ certainly do as they become more aware of their bodies. D’s teacher says she has been watching it happen. And average height is increasing by 1cm a decade so your children are likely to end up 3cm (one inch) taller than you. So, before you make another careless ‘tall’ comment – press pause, please. And don’t pat kids on the head.
At home we’re going for kick-ass positive reinforcement. My email address as a freelance journalist used to be @talltale.co.uk – until I was hacked and started spamming people I vaguely knew. I really do LOVE being tall. Love love love it! D looked surprised the first time I said it (I was being deliberately nonchalant).
‘Do you honestly, Mummy?’
I didn’t sugar-coat it. There are times when being tall is crap – shopping for clothes, for instance. I have a waist where a waist should be, boobs too and hips, all the bits that constitute a female human. It’s just they’re further apart than high street fashions allow for. Swimsuits, wetsuits, jumpsuits all slice me in half; most dresses are unintentionally empire-line; shoulder pads turn into earmuffs when I lift my arms. And 99% of all trousers look as though they’ve shrunk in the wash.
Tall people swap shopping tips and learn to make accommodations. God bless maxi dresses, I say. And I’ve just bought my first ever pair of cropped trousers. Not peg-legged, which make summer-plump ankles look like a squeeze of toothpaste, but wide and flappy. Still, revealing my ankles on purpose was torture at the start.
Leg room is always a problem: flying economy, cheap seats at the theatre, most medium-sized cars. We need crash helmets not to get concussion in historic houses. And boys are especially tricky, particularly at agonising early teenage parties. The girls are riding the puberty rollercoaster before the boys have even bought a ticket. At an epically ghastly birthday party, where I knew no one, my cousin kindly bullied a friend of his into asking me to dance. The look of horror on the boy’s face as I stood up and up and up…
But there are lots of upsides too. You can see how long a queue is without losing your place; reach the top shelf in supermarkets (so why was I turned down TWICE to be a shelf-stacker at M&S?); find a friend in a crowd; get a clear shot over the top of upstretched mobile phones. When you’re feeling grungey, you can put on a pair of heels, throw your shoulders back and strut through your troubles so that no one knows.
I have NEVER tried to downplay my height as Princess Diana used to do in flatties next to Prince Charles. It doesn’t work; in fact it has the opposite effect. Tall people can’t be inconspicuous. Instead, we have to embrace conspicuousness and own it.
D loves my high heels too, has done since she could stand up for long enough to put her feet into them and totter across my bedroom floor to admire herself in the looking glass. My job is to give her the confidence to wear her own 4in stacks, if that’s what she chooses.
Harriot is a journalist and social media bod and you can find her being fierce and fabulous in the following places: