A Tall Tale

At 65, I am in the 99th height percentile for women in the United States.

Zoe MacDiarmid

At 6’5, I am in the 99th height percentile for women in the United States.

Jeans never reach my ankles.

As a 6’5 girl, I’m an anomaly. An odd sight to see. Oftentimes, people’s eyes will scan me, their heads tilting up, then down, then back up. Some will whisper to their friends, whereas some kids will blurt out: “Are you the tallest person ever?” (I have had many kids ask me that.)

Other times, people are more confrontational. It is not uncommon for people to approach me in public and start a conversation. Most of the time I admire their courage and will engage, even though I get the same questions and reactions every time. 

At this point I have a script: “I’m 6’5. My brother is 6’6 and a half. My dad is 6’1. My mom is 5’8.” But this doesn’t always satisfy everyone’s curiosity. Some will ask about relatives I’ve never met or if I simply drank a lot of milk growing up. A few have tried to diagnose me with disorders that make limbs unusually long. 

Once they know my height, they ask if I play basketball. I don’t. Volleyball? I don’t play that either. Swimmer? No. Runner? Definitely not. 

Some ask about my shoe size. Some ask if I can “give them some of my height.” A few have stood right next to me, on their tippy toes, and were surprised that they still can’t reach past my shoulders. 

Most of the time, I don’t mind these questions or reactions. I understand that people are curious. But sometimes, even well-intended people can strike a nerve. For me, there is one question that I avoid at all costs: “If you could be shorter, would you?”

Last year was the first time I remember being asked this question. I’m not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me before. Of course there have been times where being tall was awkward and an inconvenience. For example, hitting my head every time I’m getting into a car. Or standing next to people who aren’t as tall. But I take issue with this question for a few reasons. 

Firstly, the question is pointless. No matter how much I wish for it, I will never get shorter. I can slouch, but the height is still there. 

Second, I think this question points to a bigger problem. A lot of people expect me to feel awkward at my height. And as I’ve admitted thus far, I do occasionally wish I could blend in, or at least find jeans that reach my ankles. 

But I have found that standing straight up is the best option, because being tall has its upsides, too. Studies show that tall people have an advantage over their short counterparts in terms of leadership. Another study found that taller people are less likely than shorter people to develop type two diabetes. 

And there are more practical everyday reasons to love my height, like always being able to see over crowds or never needing a step stool to reach the top shelf. Or just the feeling of being the tallest person in the room. 

For too long, we have been shown what a girl is supposed to look like: short and thin. Self-esteem issues are very prevalent in young girls, namely because of what mainstream media tells us what companies think is beautiful. 

We shouldn’t be made to want to change fundamental parts of ourselves. We all have features that make us unique. And however cliché it sounds, the best thing we can do is to embrace it. 

That’s why my answer when people ask whether I want to change my height is always a simple but firm: “No.”