Scene setting: I’m 193cm/6’4″ tall. The average height of an Australian woman is about 163cm, so conveniently you can think of me as being a whole ruler taller, or that the average Australian woman’s head is about my shoulder height. This is a weird enough height that I’ve had all kinds of weird conversations about it. Let me get you past the weird.
Rule 1: consider not talking to a tall person about their height. It’s hard to do well. Think of it like this:
Person 1: “your body has a very very unusual feature! very unusual! very unusual!”
Person 2: “whereas your body does not! very normal! very normal!”
It’s a pretty one way conversation, basically. It’s unlikely (statistically) that they can reciprocate in kind by asking you/informing you about your visible weirdnesses, and if they can, it’s likely you don’t want to hear about your weirdnesses. The conversation in reality goes something like this:
Person 1: you are very very tall!
Person 2: um, indeed.
Person 1: [waits patiently for tall person to work harder to pull their turn out of the magical conversation hat]
Or alternatively, the general rule is start conversations where the person you are talking to has some chance of reciprocation.
Rule 2: especially consider not talking to a tall child or teenager about their height! This is because people generally make free with subjecting children and teenagers to every thought that crosses their mind, usually prescriptively at that. I am probably down to a conversation every few months about my height now. When I was a teenager, I had a conversation with a stranger about my height about once a week. That person who by virtue of youth (*cough* and gender) is extra socially obliged to stand there and look polite while they hear your every thought about human height variations? You’re not the only person taking advantage.
Rule 3: I’ve heard the jokes. Useful rule in general for anyone who has what you consider an unusual body, name, accent, hair colour, job, dress, religious belief, ethnic identity, mobility aid, manner of speaking, hobby, and/or other thing.
I have to say, I’m yet to hear what I’d call a good tall joke, but then, I would be biased, wouldn’t I?
Rule 4: I don’t need to know about how unattractive you find it. I won’t belabour this: if you’re the kind of person who tells tall people they are ugly or freaky (in my case, this was almost exclusively done by men to my teenage self, men in late middle age still occasionally do it now), you’re the kind of person who isn’t reading.
Incidentally, the favoured insult for a tall slender woman you’ve just seen on the street and instantly been repelled by is “lanky bitch” or “fucking lanky bitch“. In case it ever comes up in a trivia quiz or something. Who the hell uses the word ‘lanky’?
Rule 5: I don’t want to hear about how jealous you are. This is more complicated and interesting. When I was in my late teens, most of those people stopping me to talk to me about it were middle-aged women* wanting to tell me I was beautiful and special and should stand up straight and be proud and they wished they were me.
It took me ages to work out what was going on, which is that each of these women thought she was the only one and was lighting a torch in the misery of my teen years. Since it happened several times a month, I had no notion that they thought that, and they must have been rather unsettled by my awkward and slightly hostile reaction to their attempt to reach through the fog of human cruelty with a kind thought. Sorry, kind women.
* Um, possibly adult women? I wasn’t good at picking adult’s ages at the time.
Rule 6: unless you are my doctor, I don’t want to discuss my genetic history with you. I’m not sure why everyone wants to know whether my parents are tall (oh what the hell: yes, they are, and if the human race consisted entirely of my father’s relatives, I would be at the tall end of normal, rather than at the “having conversations with strangers and writing blog entries” level). It seems kind of weird to be led through a laundry list of my relatives and asked if they are tall. Are people trying to find out if their own children will/won’t/might be tall?
A special note to doctors on this one: you don’t get out of gaol free! It might help to explain why you’re asking. “There are some diseases and syndromes which have extreme height as a symptom, but if your whole family is tall that’s less likely” is an example of a helpful thing to say. (At my height-for-sex, I suspect you can just about get away with saying “so, Marfan syndrome**, you either have it or have been investigated for it, yeah?”) But since quite a few doctors have done this out of either a desire for chitchat equivalent to the general public or a desire to satisfy some medical curiosity irrelevant to their treatment of me, I don’t like it much from doctors without explanation either. I am all good with doctor chitchat, but not about something where I can’t tell if you think I have a disease or you have a few minutes to shoot the breeze with me.
** Not the only medically interesting cause of tallness, I know.
Rule 7: I will be the judge of whether I can wear heels, thank you. I don’t wear high ones because OUCH and also because there’s absolutely no social advantage to me from being taller, quite the reverse. But I sometimes wear low ones because I like the shoes they are attached to, and every so often a sales assistant refuses to sell them to me. What the hell?
Rule 8: It’s not good news for me that there’s someone taller than you. Actual remark addressed to me on several occasions: “wow, oh my god, you’re taller than me! I feel so good knowing that there’s a woman taller than me out there!” Only about half the time do they go on to realise what that implies from my point of view.
I do see the temptation to start conversations with other tall people about how they are taller than me, but when I do I remember this.
Rule 9: You don’t need to worry about what your kids say. Well, unless it’s “fucking lanky bitch” I guess. But kids specialise in drive-bys: “that lady is very tall!” I don’t mind stating-the-obvious drive-bys, it’s cute.
The champion kid remark to date was while I was pregnant: “Mummy, that lady is very tall and she has a baby in her tummy!” Indeed!
Rule 10: I am all good with reaching stuff on high shelves for you. Maybe this bugs some tall people, certainly people apologise a lot for asking me to do this, but it seems fair enough, really. Why do shelves intended for the general public go so high anyway?
Rule 11: I like to show off. I can touch the ceiling (on tiptoes) in normal height modern rooms. (I use this to change lightbulbs.) I can stand flat-feet on the bottom of a 1.8m depth pool (the usual depth of recreational pools) and it comes up to about my mouth. I almost never get the chance to mention these things to people! Humour me. (OK, you don’t have to, now that you’ve read this.)
Rule 12: If you’ve known me for ages and have secretly always wanted to talk to me about being tall, I usually don’t mind much of this from people I know. I guess the ugly thing would be an exception, but really, it’s strangers bowling up to me and asking about the height of my great-great-grandfather’s sister that comprises 99% of the problem.