Isn't He Lovely: Short Man Stigma

Cristen Conger
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1977 randy newman album for short people In 1977, Randy Newman told the world that “short people/got no reason to live.” Certainly, Mr. Newman crooned in jest, but the stigma of being a short man undoubtedly can sting. Let’s take, for example, Danny Devito, whose five-foot stature attracted media bullying when he made his Hollywood break in the late 1980s.

Over at Genders Online, Michael Tavel Clarke highlighted these three insults leveled at the actor:

Newsweek: “DeVito has…becom[e] one of Hollywood’s hottest—and most unlikely—success stories. In a town of pretty-boy leading men, he has triumphed despite being typecast as five-foot and fiendish.”

People: “The odds against a short, balding actor being more sought after than Mel Gibson can make a guy feel like a lucky star.”

TIME: “Not, you might say, Hollywood’s idea of a leading man, unless for a Muppet remake of Rumpelstiltskin.”

For a more contemporary pop culture example, how many media jokes have we heard about the height different between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes? Answer: I can’t tell you because I’ve become immune to them. Rock on in those heels, Lady Holmes. Same goes for French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who stands 5’5”, and his wife Carla Bruni.

But the short stigma is even more pervasive—if subtle—in everyday life. For while studies and surveys about women’s perceived attractiveness and height result in a muddled mix of preferences for statures diminutive and statuesque, things aren’t so fluid for men. Research repeatedly indicates that, statistically speaking, tall men enjoy certain benefits. And for that reason, I’d argue that height is physical trait, a beauty standard of a sort, which affects men more acutely than women. 

Quick science lesson: On average, males grow 5.1 inches taller than females thanks to later onset puberty that allows for an extended period of bone development. Testosterone also triggers these cellular growth spurts, explaining why we culturally associate greater heights with masculinity.

Now back to sociology class: Is this just an example of evolutionary biology coming back to bite us, or could this be an issue of Western cultural priming, since average heights shift with latitudes and longitudes? After all, it’s culture, not biology, that heaps on the baggage of gendered traits associated with the masculine and feminine. For instance, a 1992 study finding that people automatically characterize taller men as more dominant and assertive than their shorter counterparts. On the flip side, we associate shorter men with anger and jealousy

Economic researchers have even calculated a monetary value for height discrimination in the workplace. Specifically, when corrected for variables like age and gender and weight, an inch of height is worth $789 a year in salary. That means that a person who is six feet tall, but who is otherwise identical to someone who is five foot five, will make on average $5,525 more per year. (Personally, I still don’t buy that my five-foot nine-inch height will magically close the gender pay gap in my paycheck, but that’s another post for another time.) This isn’t just a Western phenomenon, either; systematic height preferences for employment also have been reported in China.

The National Bureau of Economic Research also found that men who were an inch or more above the national height average of 5’11” demonstrated higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with their lives. Maybe that potentially fatter income has something to do with it? Or maybe it has something do with this: taller men tend to have more sexual partners and are less likely to be single and/or childless in adulthood. (Again, we’re talking in statistics and averages, so this isn’t to say that no one finds shorter men sexy and that they’re all destined to die poor and alone.)

At the same time, the short stigma also manifests as stereotypes about Napoleon complexes and negative emotions, which is  arguably just as flawed as judging people—male, female, transgender, intersexual—for their weight, appearance, disability, and so forth. These negative stereotypes obviously have gotten into our cultural psyche, too, as demonstrated by data culled from OKCupid. Why else would men who are 5’8” consistently round up their height two inches on average, in a similar pattern to women on the dating site rounding down their weight? As I’ve said before in this series (and I’m sure I’ll say again): different standards, same lies.

Previously: Five Signs of Masculinity in Crisis, Brought to You By the Fall TV Lineup, Bare Down There and Everywhere Else

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24 Comments Have Been Posted

As a very short girl, I

As a very short girl, I appreciate the other perspective on shorter men. We constantly have our abilities and talents undervalued - read any press on Janelle Monae, for example, the introduction will most likely include some version of the phrase, "Despite her petite stature..." It's not surprising short men are perceived as less powerful and important. I am infantilized a lot and sometimes my authority at work or displays of anger in front of my family are taken as comical, not seriously. Height commands respect, no doubt.

What do short men hear in terms of reassurance? I'm going to punch the next person who tells me it's okay because guys like short women.


What do short men hear in

What do short men hear in terms of reassurance? Pretty much nothing, actually. We just get admonished that our problem is that we aren't confident enough.

Okay, scratch that, we do get re-assurance that there are women out there who prefer short guys, which also makes me want to punch people. Yes, and there are also albino women out there, but have I ever met one?

Meh, a lot of guys around

interesting post!

Thanks for writing this. Iv'e always been puzzled about the bias against short men, particularly when it comes to heterosexual dating. I'm gay, so in my dating circles height is rarely ever an issue as far as I can see. (Though I have met girls who told me they thought short girls like me are cute, ha!) I feel bad for all the short dudes out there with gentle souls and awesome personalities. (I would totally date a sweet, nerdy short dude if I was attracted to guys. It'd be perfect for a small girl like me because I wouldn't have to stand on my tiptoes to kiss.)

With few exceptions, most of my straight girl friends have insisted that they could only date men who are taller than they, which I just don't get. Part of me thinks it's a little shallow, but then again most people (myself included) have at least some physical attributes we look for in a mate, so who am I to judge. From what I've gathered, the height bias has to do with women wanting to have a mate who they feel can protect them. Whether that's a biological instinct or something that women are socially and culturally primed for is up for debate. I think it's a bit of both. In my case, I probably missed out on that biological urge because I'm gay, and I wasn't as socially primed for it because my dad and most of the men in my family are short.

Height seems to be one of

Height seems to be one of those things that it's basically OK to openly, er "discriminate" based on (as much as dating preference can be viewed as discrimination - but I feel that people tend to be more wobbly and less strict about, say, weight or ethnicity, troublesome as those factors may be in not-dating circumstances.) I often hear and read straight and bi women say that that wouldn't ever date a guy who's shorter than them, and no one really reacts. Now, I am not saying that masculine and feminine straightjackets, er, sorry, ideals, aren't always codependent and playing into each other, but this is one of the more obvious cases. The preference for a taller dude, I think, related as much to the woman's self-image as to cultural/personal aesthetics. If the dude is shorter, she feels taller = bigger = unfeminine = masculine = bad.


Interesting post. My brother and me, both in our twenties, are both 5'. In the dating sphere, I haven't had any trouble with being very short, since it doesn't seem to be as big of a deal for guys to date really short girls. However, I definitely have trouble being taken seriously by people. It's odd how many adults still view shortness as strange and something to make fun of someone. You'd think after being alive for decades they'd realize that I can't make myself taller. I think people also assume I'm much younger than I really am. If someone just sees a picture of my face, they'll guess my age relatively close to my real age, but in person, they're usually about ten years younger. And I'm sure my brother who's my height gets the same thing . If you're short, people tend to treat you like you're a child, which is frustrating. I always hate it when I see short men portrayed on TV or in movies with anger issues and constantly obsessed with how short they are. It's annoying because I have no idea where they get these ideas that all short guys are like that. Obviously there's short guys who have anger issues, but I've never met a short man that all he can talk about it how short he is. My brother has had a lifetime of being short, he's used to it, but some people act like they've never seen a short guy before. He's dated women taller than him, and shorter than him, but I'm sure there's been women who have liked him but rejected him because he's so short. It's awful that so many people have that preconceived notion that the woman must be shorter than the man.

So the last guy I dated was

Some of my very favorite men

Some of my very favorite men (Paul Simon, for one) are short. Were I single, I'd be happy to date an awesome short person.

I'm really, really enjoying this whole series.

I've always been intrigued by

I've always been intrigued by the issue of height and masculinity. I'm a pretty short, straight woman, and have often tended to date very tall men (with a few exceptions). In fact, another short lady friend and I used to joke that we dated tall men out of some kind of evolutionary drive to give our children a fighting chance at not being tiny like us. It seems to be a fairly well-proven phenomenon (though I'm not saying an inevitable or correct one) that height plays a big part of men's social status, income, and romantic/sexual "success."

The height-related pay gap, as far as I can recall, was only proved in relation to men. I don't think height has nearly as much bearing on women's salaries.

I think the height stigma was actually one of the first ways in which men's appearance was something that could be judged and deemed unworthy. It was like the opening foray into all the other things you've been discussing in this series.

Thanks for this

As a short person myself (5'1") I've never much been bothered by my height since it's something that I absolutely can't change, and have been fortunate to have not been really teased since primary school. My partner is about 5'6" and also tends to be unbothered by the short factor (he's also of a slight build, which makes him look smaller.) As adults with pretty good senses of self, it's not a bother, just how things are. However we recently met a couple of folks at a pub who, when we stood to move to another table, were simply shocked at how short we both were. They made me feel like a hobbit or like I was doing some sort of really preposterous magic trick, like it *simply wasn't possible* for people to *actually* be our height. Personally, it was the first time I've actually felt short in my life.

I worry about the pay disparity and the infantilization factor for both of us. We do both rather feel like we're not actual adults (we're both in our 30s) but I've always considered that our mindset and places in our lives as opposed to societal infantilization due to size. I don't think either of us have been discriminated against. But there's a fascinating mixture of concepts going on here - I'll have to pick this apart further in my head.

Great post!

Great article. It really

Great article. It really annoyed me when my friends all said they wouldn't date short guys simply because of their height. I can just imagine a perfectly nice guy not being given a chance because he was shorter. I wouldn't mind so much if they only said they found taller guys more attractive, but when that preference of height affects whether or not they are willing to give someone a chance, it really makes me angry.

Anyways, I'm really loving this series.

Devil's advocate, why does it

Devil's advocate, why does it make you angry? How is a physical characteristic like height any different from another characteristic like weight, bad teeth, or having an ugly face? People have physical preferences and a guy can be as nice as he wants but if he's unattractive in some way, yeah, people aren't going to desire him as much. And it's obviously not because of the person's powerlessness to change their height because you can't really change your face either.

I can't speak for anybody

I can't speak for anybody else, but I think the answers are to be found in some of the posts above. For me it's the fixity of the height requirement. As another poster said, people sometimes get wobbly on their attractiveness preferences and for many other traits, like weight, bad teeth or ugly face, women might overlook it if a man has other great qualities. Not so for height; if the guy doesn't meet her requirement, nothing else about him matters, period. One experiment I read about found that the women participating would rather date the 6' unemployed ex-con versus the successful 5"2' neurosurgeon.

Nobody ever finds their perfect partner, and with 50% of men average height or less, a woman's utter unwillingness to budge on height is... annoying.

Weight can be changed, and

Weight can be changed, and typically (though not always) shows a lack of fitness or interest in self/health. I'm a relatively healthy, moderately active person, and I want someone who can match that lifestyle. Bad teeth are again by fault of that person's lack of hygiene and regular dental visits, they can also be fixed. Ugly face is a rather subjective term and much harder to substantiate. In general, the things they can control like clear skin, nice teeth, and clean hair will all add up to an attractive face. Height is not a controllable factor. They can do nothing to change it and being 5'5" shows no lack of effort on that person's part other than genetics. The other factors all do.

It is very important

As a short man at 5'5" I am lucky if women consider me to be a man at all. I've heard the jokes before, women saying that I don't deserve to have children, that I am an ungrown teenager, that I am half-a-man, etc. The only thing I would say to women who want to have children is do not chose a partner who could potentially give you short children. The life of a 5'5" man in American society is truly not a life that is worth living.

Also if you have a child and his projected adult adult height is low, for the love of him give him growth hormone. Height is the single most important determining factor of success, happiness, well-being, and respect in American society. My parents told me that I didn't deserve to get growth hormone as a child despite the doctor saying I qualified for them and now I have to live like this for the rest of my life. Ironically after the age of 18 someone can go and get human growth hormone but by then it is too late because the epiphyseal plates have generally already fused

I always find the reference

I always find the reference to caveman days and some innate biological preference laughable.

A person's height DNA comes from the female side. Men who were significantly larger, ate more, took up more space, and had more difficulty hunting and hiding from predators. Sorry, but tall or short, humans have very little chance of outrunning a lion. In cold climates, those with longer extremities did not survive the cold. There is no significant biological benefit to being tall. The very recent "preference" of having a tall man is merely a social bias that has come about because of media manipulation and its continued open criticism and mockery of short men. Humans are herd animals and today women are merely mimicking what they see. That is all.


I always find the reference to caveman days and some innate biological preference laughable.

A person's height DNA comes from the female side. Men who were significantly larger, ate more, took up more space, and had more difficulty hunting and hiding from predators. Sorry, but tall or short, humans have very little chance of outrunning a lion. In cold climates, those with longer extremities did not survive the cold. There is no significant biological benefit to being tall. The very recent "preference" of having a tall man is merely a social bias that has come about because of media manipulation and its continued open criticism and mockery of short men. Humans are herd animals and today women are merely mimicking what they see. That is all.

Interesting approach

Interesting approach.

My dad is around 170cm (5'7") tall, and he told me he always had to go to the extremes in order to get girls. Among other things he used to wear shoes with hidden platforms etc. Always complained about the discrimination by women... even though he was much "taller" in another department, :D, probably why no woman has ever left him.
I am 177cm, or 5'10", but still am one of the shortest guys in my country. I was the shortest kid in primary school. Being skinny with glasses doesn't help... but I don't blame women for discrimination on the grounds of sexual selection any more. It really isn't their fault - being a tall male in a modern human society represents higher erotic and biological capital for he can, if everything else fails - education, business etc. - always find a job like at the entrance of a discotheque, bodyguard, some physical work etc. Seriously, there is an underlying biological reason for women in the cities to apply that kind of criteria for sexual selection. Much to our grief. Men discriminate other men as well - in fighting sports the most popular category is heavy weight.

I have noticed that people in cities are taller on average than people in villages. Also I went recently to a gay club for the first time in my life, out of curiosity, and realized that all men are of my height or shorter - much to the contrast of general (heterosexual) public.

Scientist have discovered that dwarfism caused by the lack of resources exists in humans and not just in the animal world. All the same abundance of resources leads to an increase in height and weight. What seriously bugs me is what is the highest SUSTAINABLE height of a modern male. Due to the ongoing economic crisis, I guess, height will matter less in dating, wealth more.

Yes, it is important

"The life of a 5'5" man in American society is truly not a life that is worth living."

Wow. Just wow. You can say that YOUR life is not worth living, but don't include every 5'5" man in that statement. My life is pretty awesome. Sure, my wife doesn't look like she was ordered out of a magazine; every dude that I meet doesn't bow before my extreme masculine dominance; and I'm not a high level executive at such and such firm. But I do have a pretty wife who's easy to love, lots of friends who respect me for who I am, and a fun and rewarding career. I really couldn't ask for much more.

While I've definitely seen my share of heightism, and on more than one occasion I've been rejected solely on the basis of my height, I've more than made up for it in other areas. In most cases, I've avoided overcompensating - I don't need to drive a Hummer or wear platform shoes. I'm not saying I'm some perfectly secure ideal man; there are certainly times that I'm uncomfortable being short. Dating was hard at times, because while I felt a lot of women were attracted to me, I knew some would never get over their distaste for short men. But looking back, I never really struggled much more than taller friends. Pickup basketball can be annoying, because when I walk into a gym, I'm instantly regarded as a number 4 or 5 pick (I'm both short AND white, one of the few times being white would NOT be considered a priveleged position). But I've built a reputation where I play. I've gotten some measure of respect from other players.

Obviously I've noticed the media portrayals of short men too - the angry/unstable villains are almost always short, and short people almost always have other physically unattractive features. But I always remember that portrayals are just that... Purposeful manipulations of our oversimplified collective fears and desires. I grew up watching short men emasculated on TV and in movies, but luckily I also got to watch my dad - at 5'2", a strong, secure, hard-working man who, by the time I started emulating him, had already reconciled his struggles with being a short man. He set an example that has helped me in a world that, admittedly, was built for taller men than myself.

I was a curious googler when

<p>I was a curious googler when I stumbled upon this.. alot of the comments were unnerving especially yours. My boyfriend is 5'4 and im 5'8. at first its a weird thing to get used to his hight, yes, but thats because I have been surrounded by tall men all my life. My father at 6'4 my younger brother at 6, and alot of friends and friends of friends all these males were always taller than I. And thats how it was until I met my love and we just clicked, and frankly I didnt care at the moment if he was shorter than me or not, he made me happy, he made me laugh, he was confident when he spoke to me (I have a very out going personality, and no doubt scare alot of men, so I was shocked when he of all guys stood up to me and wasnt afraid to approach me) and he was also really pessimistic about his hight just like you. Frankly I believe that its all in your head, and thats because it is. Now I dont know how long people have been telling you that being short is a bad thing, and how long they have been bringing you down and I know that this is a wound and a hurt you will carry forever. But try to resolve it, and try to make it go away because honestly, I can tell you how to get a woman right now. This may not always work I dont like women so much that I ask what they like all the time but im female and im pretty sure I have just about the same mindset, lol. You pick the one you like (tall, short, skinny, not a toothpick, it doesn't matter) make eye contact, smile, be friendly, BE CONFIDENT (strut your stuff, love who you are and show it at the same time you show that you're ready to love another and that other is the one your looking at), when you feel like its time to approach her go make a conversation and try to be funny if you already aren't. Dude, you go. Your awesome, and dont listen to people who bring you down. Just take their shit and let it fuel you to rise up. Love life you only have one.</p>

Limited Viewpoints

I'm going to lay this on the line here because, as a shorter man 5'6", I have had these issues in the past. Being shorter can be seen as a negative social factor but the people, in my experience, who typically give issue to this are those who don't work as hard on rounding out the other factors in their lives. If one has a trait that is a hinderance the logical thing to do comes down to gaining other good qualities to balance the scales.
Should it matter? Debatable.
Does it matter? Most times.
Take up a hobby. Be well-educated, well versed, honestly engaging and a real person. Be unique and you will gain favor. People worry too much about what holds them back and not enough about what they can do to become amazing people. Passion is what counts.
In my own case, I am a musician. I play guitar and the stage charisma I gained from that has helped me even the score. I walk tall and, most importantly, I have respect for the women I date.
For point of anonymous reference: Every woman I've ever been emotionally invested in has not only been taller than me but has been taller than the average by a significant margin. My current girlfriend is 5'11". You can't let things hold you back, my friends. Be a strong person, be the best at what you do and, if all else fails, learning to even half-assedly play guitar can be a great boon in all walks of life.

I feel sympathy if short men

I feel sympathy if short men have trouble being seen as men and dating. The reverse is also true. Tall women are also last choice and not seen as being women. I'm very girly in personality. It hurts me very much that most men prefer very short women but I can't change men's preferences (pedophiles jk), so you just have to move on. Dating, relationships, and marriage are not the be all. I have found other things to do with my life.

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Unfortunately, men who are

Unfortunately, men who are shorter do face a lot of discrimination for not being the ideal man (tall, handsome, athletic) or being masculine enough (tall, buff, barely empathetic). It's even harder when your worst enemy is yourself. For example, I've always been quite insecure about my height (when I ended high school I was about 5'8" - with shoes on) and though other people didn't really regard height too much, I was my own biggest critic since all of these other guys, and a lot of girls, were taller than I was and I hated that. The problem with society today is that while legally, you can't discriminate, hints of prejudice still exist with the undertones and especially for height discrimination, you can literally pick on someone for being short and no one will do anything against it, therefore, a guy would have to have what's called "short man syndrome" to compensate for our lack of height.

Of course, being the timid person that I am, I never fell through with the stereotype of how a man should be, my personality just didn't allow it and plus, being gay doesn't actually make me want to be too masculine, though barely anyone seems to suspect it. All I know is that what started to matter more than insecurity for me was my health. For some reason, exercising more allowed my acne to get off (of course I also had a bit of medicine), my body to get stronger, and somehow, also getting a bit taller (around 2 inches over the course of 6 months). Probably, in my case, puberty was just extremely delayed, but the damage was still done, and all I know is that social injustice is now my worst enemy, so I guess no matter what height you are, if you're sure of your dream and you do your best to fulfill it, you'll be alright. I mean, the richer you are doesn't always mean the better you are anyway. ;)

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