clock menu more-arrow no yes
Illustration by Fahren Feingold for Racked

Filed under:

Learning to Love Being Five Feet Tall

When I first started working in fashion, I worried that no one would take me seriously.

It took me a long time to realize I was short. Puberty was distracting; it wasn't until I'd been catapulted fully into early adulthood that I discovered it had left me a couple inches below par.


Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Early on in college, a fellow five-footer saw me at a dorm bonding event and said, "Oh good, I'm not the only short person here!" I literally thought she was talking to someone else. Later, we became close friends. She's one of the few people I know who can borrow my pants.

Earlier this year on The Cut, Ann Friedman wrote about being 6'2". "Being a very tall woman means being very visible," she said. "You know that feeling you had during your most awkward adolescent years — that everyone was staring at you? That feeling is my life." Being a short woman isn't as hard. There are a lot more of us, and we don't challenge conventional ideas about what a girl is supposed to look like. We don't make guys feel threatened. If anything, we make them feel awesome because they can rest their elbows on top of our heads.

But if tall women are ultra-visible, short women are constantly at risk of being rendered invisible, in every possible way. I mind it slightly when the counter at the coffee shop is so tall that the clerk can't see me, but I mind it a lot when my body gets in the way of my ability to do my job.

When I first started working in fashion, I worried that no one would take me seriously.

When I first started working in fashion, I worried that no one would take me seriously. For the first time ever, being short seemed like an impediment, and as soon as it became a problem, it began to define me. I'd go to runway shows and not be able to see over people's heads. I'd feel threatened, less-than, defensive. I tried making a list of other short people in the industry, but Kate Moss is famously considered small at 5'7" and I just didn't think she'd be able to relate.

One fashion journalist friend of mine is so tall and beautiful that she never has to wait in line. She shows up at hot restaurants and free tables just miraculously appear. But she's a sharp writer with a killer instinct, and she's built her career on the strength of her byline, not the length of her legs. She told me that when she finally came face-to-face with one well-known fashion personage, the response she got was "Wow, reading your writing, I never expected you to be so...tall." The implication: I always thought you were a snarky little twerp with a Napoleon complex. There's a lot loaded into that sentence, and it's not about height. It's about power, who has it, and who we assume wants it.

Short women like me face a gravitas issue in every field—it's hard to be a boss when you're sitting around a conference table and your feet don't touch the floor. But in fashion especially, you're supposed to be a capital-P Presence. And the way you look, for better or for worse, is supposed to tell the world something about who you are. Fashion people are supposed to be giraffes, all swoop and grace and neck. I am not a giraffe. I am more of a Jack Russell terrier, with wee legs and an insatiable need for stimulation.

This turns out to be perfect for a career online. There's a famous New Yorker cartoon: "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog." On the internet, where our relationships are all based on emails and faves and RTs, it's possible to know people for months, even years, without them learning what you look like. And by the time they meet you, often they don't care.

Short women like me face a gravitas issue in every field.

Which isn't to say that the internet has created a looks-free meritocracy—this isn't 1995, we're not all hanging out in AOL chat rooms, and also, I'm not insane. The fashion industry is still a pretty fucking superficial place. But I don't work here because I want to help create an impossible standard of perfection for people to live up to. I work here because there are a lot of good stories, and the people behind them aren't necessarily the ones you see in style blogs looking tan and lanky and symmetrical behind a strategically placed lens flair.

Once I settled into the job and lost my newbie jitters, I realized that I wasn't the only short girl in town. And some of those shorties were killing it. Which helped me stop thinking about myself as small and start thinking about myself as a person with stuff to do.

My dad's only about 5'5", and I've learned everything I know about being short in the world from him. You want to bounce a little when you talk, to radiate waves of energy, cheating your height upwards purely with your aura. Most importantly, you never, ever want to act like you think you're small. If you think you're small, other people will, too. I learned this by accident, out of pure bodily obliviousness, but even now that I've eaten from the tree of knowledge, I try my best to pretend I never had that meal.

Essays

Aging, but Make It Fashion

Essays

The Death of the Plain Preppy Sneaker

Essays

Navigating the Intensely Gendered World of Hair Salons When You’re Queer

View all stories in Essays