Modelesque But Not a Model

Inclusivity is more important than ever. With plus size models taking the modelling world by storm, women of colour demanding they be represented in the beauty world and Tommy Hilfiger introducing an adaptive clothing line for people with disabilities, it seems like everyone is determined to ensure that the next generation of children all have someone they can look up to. But I still think there’s a group missing: the tall kids.

In our society, being tall is only beautiful if your height is profitable. In 2010, the BBC reported that the average height of a woman in the UK was 5’3”, and according to the British Fashion Model Agents Association, the average height of a female model is at least 5’8”. Models worldwide are exalted as beautiful, exotic creatures with perfect bodies that tower over the rest of us. But they are the exception – the average tall child isn’t going to be a model or an athlete. So, who do they look up to when they grow up to be an average woman with a couple extra inches? I ask because I am that woman.

I remember when I was around nine years old, my Mum dropped me off at a day summer camp for parents that had to work during the summer holidays. Due to some mix-up because of my height, I ended up in a group with kids around the age of fourteen. I was a very shy, insecure child and ended up being laughed at by the other kids because I was acting childish… (because I was a child!)

When I complained to the adult in charge she thought I was lying. When I told her my age she refused to move me to a younger group. She even tried to comfort me because I wasn’t as smart as the other children, which wouldn’t have been a surprise if she had listened to the fact that I was in fact nine!

Writing this at twenty years old, I can still feel the anger, the fear, the awkwardness and the sadness, all because I was “too tall for my age”. Now as an adult I still get comments such as “oh my God, how tall are you?” or “you should never wear heels” or “I don’t go for tall girls”. Let’s not even start on the fact that along with being a giant you’re also likely to have big feet.

When you are an average tall woman, opinions around your height range from unique to plain weird. You get labelled as awkward and clumsy even if you’re not, you’re the only one that can’t find affordable clothing with stores saying that they stock for the majority, despite having plus size and petite ranges. Out of the UK’s top 10 retailers, according to the number of customers in 2016, none stock tall section ranges in-store and one stocks online (New Look), while six stock petite ranges. That’s 0% versus 60%! In the last two years, the big difference has been the continued rise of online shopping – sadly at the expense of the high street – but one thing that the online shops provide that the stores weren’t able to is inclusivity. Online retailers such as ASOS, Boohoo, Missguided and New Look provide fashionable clothes for tall, petite and plus-size women. But a lot of them still only cater to our shorter counterparts, such as Pretty Little Thing.

After researching, I realised that it’s not only tall women that have it hard. On the other side of the spectrum, petite women often get labelled as cute and are thought to be younger than they are, so tend to not be taken as seriously in professional situations. As someone who’s 6ft tall, I can imagine how frustrating that would be – having your intelligence questioned just because of your height. I can also relate as a black woman, because my intelligence is challenged on various occasions. Based on the colour of my skin, people often assume I am less intelligent that my white counterparts even when I am filled with a room of my peers. So, in a different but similar light, I can relate (to an extent) how many petite people must feel.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Like any other insecurity, I’ve learnt to accept and even love my height. Slowly I’ve stop slouching in photos and I’ve gotten used to the annoying questions. Sometimes I even sarcastically act shocked when someone tells me I’m tall, “oh my days, when did this happen. Last time I checked I was 5’5”!!”. But most of the time I know that they mean no harm and they are just asking out of curiosity. As mentioned earlier, the inclusivity ‘trend’ has crept a little into the tall world with online stores such as Missguided and ASOS having tall sections. Topshop also caters to tall women, being the only high street store with a tall section both in store and online. Also, I can wake up five minutes later than everybody else for lectures because I can walk fast due to my extra-long legs. When I gain weight it’s not as noticeable because there’s a lot more of me to spread the weight across. And because I’ve got long arms I can get most of my outfit in shot when I’m taking a selfie. 

On average, tall people get paid more worldwide as we are assumed to be better leaders based on our perception of what a leader should look like. Arguably, this is why many Fortune 500 CEOs (most of which of men) are taller than the average man. However, this statistic just shows that once again being tall is only seen as a beneficial trait in a man. As of April 2018, only 24 out of the Fortune 500 companies have women as CEOs, that’s 4.8%. Out of the 24 only 2 are women of colour: Geisha Williams of PG&E Corporation and Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo. Once again, women of colour are at the bottom of the totem pole even when it comes to benefiting from height.

So, before you ask an insensitive question or make an assumption based on someone’s height, imagine walking a mile in their shoes.

That’s if you could even handle the long strides.

Written by Jade Egemonye 

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