I was always the shortie.
I was the shortest dancer on my kindergarten dance team so I was always positioned in the front when the group performed. I was always in the front of class pictures. In any grade, I usually stand at the shortest end of the line formation. My parents measured me every few months to see how tall I have grown, and would celebrate when my height increased a few inches. My mother was especially concerned with my height, feeding me all the right food to grow my bones and emphasized the importance of milk (even though I am pretty sure I was lactose intolerant and hated the taste of it).
At times, being short felt like a disease. Somehow most Chinese parents were measuring the health of their children from their height. The first things Chinese people say to a child they meet would be:“wow look how tall you have grown” or for me would be “why are you so little you should eat more!” Although humans are supposed to develop, grow, and come into their full form, genetics definitely plays a part! May I point out that my dad is 5’3 and my mom is 5’4, and those combination made the 5’0 me. That looks about right to me.
At times, being short made me feel isolated. Being at one end of the line made me feel like I was forgotten and unimportant. It also made me feel less than, that somehow my identity and value was tied to my body dimensions. A bunch of us short people would bond at the one end of the line and in class, empowering each other in a way, as if this was our circle and we can only be friends with people of the same height.
But it was because of my height, I felt the need to be loud, to voice my opinion and demand attention. I was always the first to raise my hand to participate in class. I was always volunteering to go to the front of the class to lead a reading session or write on the chalk board. I was selected to participate in “reading competition” where I recite literature in front of big crowds. I was also physically active and represented my class in sporting events. Also I was playing piano and performing with my feet barely touching the foot levers at the bottom. I wasn’t aware at the time, but all those actions were my ways of provE to people that my ability far exceeds my height; that I shall not be forgotten or unheard.
The height anxiety continues into my adulthood. My mother still complains about the fact that I probably did not drink enough milk to become taller; that somehow because I am not 6 feet tall, she has failed at her job as a parent, which is so untrue. She recommends that I find someone who is at least 6 feet, to somehow change up the genetic patterns of our family. When I go back to China, people still talk about my height, this time in a positive way because I am a few inches taller than my older girl cousin. They usually credit that to the fact I live in America, eating American food and drinking American water. Then I realized: this obsession with height and the aspect of “tall” being the beauty ideal came straight from Western culture!
When the western media portrays perfection in the form of a 6-feet tall and skinny white woman or muscular man, the rest of the world is affected by that standard and in one form or another, wish they embody that perfection. The truth is, that is not how we should measure our body nor our life to. Our choice of occupation should not be based on our body dimensions. We see this in the fashion world, where tall and skinny women are the norm in the modeling industry, from runway to print. Short women rarely get a chance to be taken seriously as a model. Which is why I feel the need to feature diversity in the models I choose as a fashion designer; better yet, walk my own show.
Our choice of partner should not be based on a checklist of these beauty characteristics that derive mainly from genetics of western white European population: tall, fair skin, blonde. The majority of the world does not fit those characteristics and that is the beauty of it. Dating someone merely because of their physical attributes blinds you from getting to know them in deeper levels and prevents real human connection. Yet a lot of women still look for men with those beauty ideals in their mind; and in turn, men internalize that ideal as well. Usually one of the first things that female friends would ask about my boyfriend is: “How tall is he?” And a lot of times men who date me would say: “I like short and petite girls.”
Being short is also a daily struggle, as I feel the need to put on heels to look more “put together” and to be “noticed”. Just think about the concept that your body is not complete without having added inches from manufactured heels under your feet. It has been a long process to get to the point where I allow myself to wear flats and be content. Of course, living in New York definitely reinforces that need. But somehow wearing flats just doesn’t feel the same as wearing heels, that when I am on heels I have the added confidence to meet people and go out into the world, regardless of the pain.
All my life, being short has been a characteristic that I carry with me. But I make sure that it is not a characteristic that confines my abilities nor limit my strength. I make sure people remember me as “short but feisty”, or “short but strong”, or “short but unstoppable”. Of course, it is all easier said than done, as we all struggle with the society beauty ideals that have been brainwashing us from birth. But if I can inspire another short girl by embracing my own shortness and strut through life like no one’s business, then it is all worth it. After all, it’s better to build your own runway: )