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Heightism: a form of discrimination that is based on height.
In our culture, there is a bias against short stature, and a glorification of those taller in stature. The result of this prejudice is discrimination against short people in a variety of areas, including politics, business, dating and sports.
In our society, we favor the tall over the short and the thin over the fat. With these biases, it’s no wonder that people tend to round up their height – 5’3” becomes 5’4”- and round down their weight – 122 pounds becomes 120 pounds.
So many of us are striving to more closely approximate the tall, thin ideal paraded on television, in movies and across fashion runways.
The average fashion model is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 117 pounds, while the average American woman is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weights 140 pounds. As a result, many women are walking around feeling “too short” and “too fat.”
Meanwhile, the average American male is 5 feet 9 inches tall. An advertisement for height-enhancing insoles in The Sharper Image catalogue points to the drive for inches even in tall men. The advertisement begins with the question, “Who wouldn’t like to be taller?” and goes on to say, “I’m 5' 11”, and even I notice that at parties or in social situations, the tallest guy seems to have an advantage.” If a man two inches taller than the average is a potential consumer of the height-enhancing insoles, it is undeniable that the pressure for more inches and the glorification of tall stature is deeply embedded in our culture.
It can be hard to resist this cultural pressure, this feeling of being “less than”, of not “measuring up,” if you are short.
I know my Achilles heel, and for a long time it craved a stiletto. No more. Now I am proud to stand on my own two feet, short legs and all, and take a stand.
Heightism is real and must be addressed. To find out more about civil rights legislation to combat height and weight discrimination, visit www.shortsupport.org/Resources/employment.html.
Human Growth Hormone Treatment for Healthy Short Children: The Extreme of Height Prejudice
In 2003, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of human growth hormone (hGH) for healthy short children in an attempt to make them taller. There is nothing medically wrong with these children; they produce normal levels of growth hormone on their own. They are simply short, most often because their parents are short.
But being short isn’t the problem. The real difficulties lie in the social bias against short people. Are we willing to treat the victim of a social prejudice with medical technology that supports and reinforces that prejudice? Are we willing to take a healthy child and turn him or her into a patient in need of treatment? We live in a culture that is obsessed with being tall and thin and now the pharmaceutical companies have jumped on the bias against short people. They calculated that they have a built in population to treat that could boost profits significantly, because there will always be those who fall into the lower height percentiles on a bell shaped curve.
Treatment involves subjecting the child to growth hormone injections an average of six times per week over a period of five to ten years at an average cost of $20,000 annually. The treatment may be physically and emotionally harmful, and at most, the child may gain between 1 and 1½,” if any extra height is gained at all.
To treat the fourteen to twenty thousand children in the U.S. who suffer with classic growth hormone deficiency (for whom treatment is based on a medical need) the cost would be approximately $182 million annually. With the FDA now deeming girls with a predicted height of 4’11” and boys with a predicted height of 5’3,” eligible for hGH treatment, the number of potential treatment candidates jumps to 1.7 million children at an annual cost (i.e. revenue) of $22 billion.
There is profit to be made by exacerbating the height prejudice so rampant in this culture.
What we need is education for those who discriminate against short people, not the genetic engineering of the victims of that prejudice.
Politics: Studies have revealed a bias favoring tallness in politics. For example, from 1904-1984 the taller candidate won the U.S. presidential elections 80% of the time, and only two presidents in the entire history of the United States have been shorter than the nation’s average height at the time of their presidencies.
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich writes, “With rare exceptions, senators are always tall and big shouldered. Heightism is rampant in American politics. I’m tempted to stand on my chair, but that would be uncabinetlike. I have to remain content to hear the oath and watch the backs of senatorial necks.”
Reich, Robert, B. (1997). Locked in the Cabinet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, p. 44.
Business: The business world also favors the tall over the short. For example, one study found a positive relationship between newly hired MBAs' height and starting salaries. Tall men (6 feet 2 inches and above) received a starting salary 12.4% higher than graduates of the same school who were less than 6 feet, even when the shorter applicant was a man of higher intelligence. In 2003, researchers at the University of Florida and the University of North Carolina found that each extra inch of a man’s height commanded an additional $789 dollars annually. Over the years, that difference can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars more for the tall person compared to his shorter counterpart.
Dating: Another area where height prejudice exists is in dating. Studies have shown that women favor tall men over short men. For example, when 100 women were asked to evaluate photographs of men whom they believed to be tall, average or short, all of them found the tall and average men significantly more attractive.
Sports: Of American sports, noted English sportswriter Paul Gardner said, “Americans have made it very clear they find big men much more entertaining than small men. There is a long-standing American idea that bigger means better. One of the reasons why football is cherished is because it is one of the few areas of life where the idea actually works.”
Keyes, Ralph. (1980). The Height of Your Life. Boston: Little, Brown and company. p.252
It’s worth noting that the American obsession with emphasizing size in sports hurts the smaller athlete as well as the bigger one. The pressure is great for athletes to conform to the cartoon image of the Incredible Hulk. The result is the widespread abuse of steroids at all levels of athletic activity. For example, estimates of steroid abuse among professional football players, particularly linebackers and linemen, run as high as 50%.