For most of my life, I’ve been short. A short kid, a short boy, and finally a short guy. Twenty years in, and I’ve had enough of the open and hidden discrimination that there is against short people. It exists and here’s why I think so.
I stand at a mere 5 ft 3″ and saying I’m proud of it would be the biggest bullshit ever. Height has been and will be the worst obstacle in my life, the elephant in the room that’ll keep making me unsuitable for a leadership position, even if I have stellar qualifications. It’ll keep warranting sarcastic comments, from girls whom I’ve never met or talked to before. It’ll definitely make it impossible to fly with the cloud or sail through the seas. And many more.
If you didn’t know, height is mostly determined by genetics. Just as you can’t change being black or woman, you cant change being short. The ridiculous ways people try to change their height is nothing short of bleaching the skin or having a gender-changing surgery. They include, among other things, hanging like a monkey for long hours and cutting open your shin bone to allow it to grow.
When I was a child, comments ranged from friendly “baba beshi kore khaba, lomba hote hobe” to downright rage towards my parents, “bachcha ke khawan na, eto pichchi kno?”. The ones with good intentions made it worse with their sympathies and advices, to rectify something my 8-year-old self wasn’t even aware was a problem.
Fast forward a few years, I realized there was no action or romantic heroes that looked short. My adolescent mind panicked and searched through the internet looking for a miracle cure that would save me from ultimate humiliation. Despite regularly burning up 1/4th of my family’s monthly internet package, I found none that proved effective. I couldn’t lose hope though, so I carried on doing pull-ups and hung upside down.
In my mid-teenage, it dawned on me that I would probably, forever be in the short spectrum. How short, that was the question. All those years of intensive research on human heights and looking for scientific ways to improve it, has failed. Despair engulfed me, my throat closed in.
I knew the cost of losing this particular battle against Nature, it meant to my mind, all those dreams that I’d, where I was a military personnel, commanding my fleet to serve justice, or an industry leader with a blueprint to save humanity from the next crisis, or just simply having a good moment with my wife, all those dreams kind of died down. To my teenage mind, being tall meant an easy way to success, and you see I wasn’t totally wrong.
With the recent social movements like the BLM and others, the stories people shared about institutional racism, implicit and explicit hatred towards a race, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to my experience as a short man. A litmus test, to know whether discrimination exists against a race or group of people, is to ask any Asian parents whether they’ll marry their child to someone of that group. I think you already have your answer.
The internet is a place where you find people from everywhere. Go to any short people support group or websites, you’ll find most contents are just to help you hide “shortism” or to downright convince you height doesn’t matter. While I agree that height shouldn’t matter, but there is no avoiding the cold hard reality that it does, for every second of your life until you force it to not matter.
I’ve been blessed with an incredible group of friends and a family that I can’t ever stop being thankful for. With their protective shield around me, I could grow confident, despite my insecurities. Maybe, it’s due to them that I’m finding the courage to openly talk about something I’ve kept hidden all my life.
The unfortunate thing is, not every short person gets those blessings. They mostly grow into what society expects them to be, “wimpy talkative jokers” who are not to be trusted or “angry lil dudes” you shouldn’t be around. It’s like a feedback loop, where the result of an event that is heavily influenced by your prior beliefs about it, further strengthen your beliefs.
Another interesting thing is that, just as vocal women find the most resistance from other women when they try to go against oppressive patriarchal norms, I’ve found that short people would be the first to remind you that there is something wrong with your height.
The reason I’m writing all this is not to get your sympathy, nothing could be worse than that, trust me. My intention was to make you, my relatively tall friend, aware of what we short people face so that together we can ensure the next qualified short CEO isn’t shunned aside because of his height or the next teenage boy doesn’t feel the suicidal urge by gauging out his value against a measuring tape. Break the stigma and the systemic hatred against height. Change your perception of us. We have a lot to offer.
And if you’re someone who has been treated differently because of your height, I don’t have any advice for how to process and deal with the discrimination. You’ll get enough of that on the internet. Rather, please, share your story. Don’t be afraid of being laughed at. The longer you hide out of shame, trying to convince yourself your problems are not worth the attention of the world, the more normal it gets.
Wordsmith: Labib al-Barr