November 8, 2009

People mistakenly think being short has advantages. Especially when it comes to flying. The other day I told someone I was travelling in coach. She responded: "Well you're short, it's not so bad. You can curl up in an economy class seat."

Really? I'm not the size of a poodle. And when the person in front of me puts their seat back so that it touches my nose, how does being short help? Those seats are just as uncomfortable no matter what your height.

Most of the time I don't think about being short until someone else points it out. And when they do, it's usually because they're surprised to discover I'm 5'1. I had an ex-boyfriend who said I didn't seem short because I had a "big personality." I took that as a compliment. Right up until he dumped me.

Last month I met someone for lunch who I'd never met in person before. We'd been corresponding for a while - she'd seen my photograph - and when I showed up, she exclaimed, "You seemed so much taller!"

What, over e-mail?

I wasn't sure how to respond. Sorry? It sounded like I was letting her down. Then she said, "I just didn't realize you were a tiny person."

I love being called tiny even though I never connect to it. Probably because I don't feel tiny. A tiny person sounds like they've shrunk in the wash. Or it's a miniature version and not particularly substantial. Like a mini muffin.

Another one I don't relate to - petite. Whenever someone refers to me as 'petite' I feel like what they really mean is: short. Only they're trying to be polite. Why dress it up? Not to mention that none of the clothes in the "petite" section ever fit me. Petite women are delicate with wrists the width of a pencil and they can slide effortlessly between tables in restaurants. Not once have I ever squeezed between two tables without knocking someone's water over with my butt.

Because I've been short all my life, I've adapted. As soon as I was no longer able to sit on my father's shoulders, I gave up ever being able to see anything again. Not that I feel I'm missing out.

Parades? I'll survive. Concerts? No thanks. I stopped going to any kind of public event where there might be a crowd.

One time a friend talked me into watching the New York Marathon.

What a mistake. The whole time I was staring at the back of someone's fleece jacket and asking, "What's happening?" A tall man standing next to me said: "I see joggers." How exciting.

Driving is also a misery. I have to sit so close to the steering wheel I worry there will be no room for the airbag to deploy.

But the worst thing about being short is never being able to buy a pair of trousers without a trip to the tailor. I know some people don't mind - but I dread it. Last week I bought a pair of sweatpants on sale and even those needed an alteration. It cost more than the trousers. Why is size small made for women who are 6 feet?

A few years ago, my friend Tamara wanted me to meet a friend of hers who lives in London. "You'll love her," she said, "You guys are the same size."

I'd never heard that as fix-up criteria before. Did she think we'd relate to each other because we were both height-challenged? As though being short was an affliction we had in common.

Sure enough, when she answered her door, we stood eye to eye. Both of us were wearing flats. We were exactly the same size. Except she was petite.

The only area where being short has an upside is, it's easy to meet men who are taller than me. But when they discover my big personality, they end up feeling small.