Is Heightism a Real Prejudice Or Is It Just Bullying — A Short Person Writes

Stand up and be counted!..Oh, you are standing up

“woman reaching chip packs inside store” by Chan on Unsplash

In the UK, we have a BBC programme called QI (short for Quite Interesting) — a panel show that focusses on facts and makes them funny. Years ago, I tuned in with a glass of wine and an apple pie (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it) and discovered a social prejudice against me I’d never heard of.

It turns out, I’m a potential victim of heightism. I don’t have to admit to this you realise, I’m sat at a computer screen. I could save myself the humiliation by hiding behind my relative anonymity. But no, this issue needs to challenged and championed and I will stand up and be counted! Albeit as a half.

Actually, the word might have been new it wasn’t news to me, nor I daresay to anyone else who’s short. I knew as a phenomenon that it was recognised by psychologists — that short people are treated as infantile and self esteem issues can follow — and boy do I know it. But I was surprised to discover, once I’d read more, the discriminatory aspects, such as pay gaps that can match those of sexism and racism.

Heightism, at least according to the brief bit of blurb I’ve read about it, is more of an acknowledged problem for men although women do suffer too. Short men may get fewer jobs as CEOs and are less of a hit with the ladies than their taller rivals (assuming they’re straight, no figures for gay men), but I’ll put money on them hearing “aw bless” a lot less than I do.

This may be trivial in comparison but I can get pretty animated about the perils of walking down the street when one is short. For example, what should happen when two people are walking towards one another but there’s not enough room on the path? Etiquette would suggest that both move, both give way as much space as the other — a fair and equal 50/50 effort. But in reality? Not so. I’m constantly having to step, leap or dive roll out of the way to avoid being bounced sideways (which I have been many a time). And it is always considered my fault despite the fact that I’m the only one who bothered to move.

The same principal applies to trains, planes and cinema seats. It’s a matter of personal space, and in these 3 cases, leg room. I sympathise with the long-legged who have to endure crippling agony for the duration. But that’s partly because often I have to go through it on their behalf. I’ve many a time had to give over my comfort and space to someone who feels they have the right to stretch out and occupy my leg room. That I paid for.

On a slightly less whiny note though, what can be done about it? It’s true that the fight against other prejudices have made tentative yet significant progress and the lives of millions improved. But their success I feel partly owes something to people eventually running out of reasons, once challenged, to pick on a member of these groups. Women become doctors, black people become Presidents — you can no longer claim they’re not capable, you’d appear illogical.

Bigots are bullies, no doubt about it, but I’ve always felt there is often a more common-or-garden type of bully at work with the treatment short people get. And this is possibly why it just doesn’t fully sit right in the category of ‘prejudice’ for me. That would suggest a history of ignorance, of spreading misinformation that leads to hatred. Is it really that calculated with heightism?

Tall people don’t live bully-free by any means, but they are very often stronger or more intimidating — one to one at any rate. If that sounds a bit primitive for a modern society with laws against violence, then think of how often you hear people say, You wouldn’t want to mess with him, about someone physically large. It matters.

Most bullies make a quick, simple reckoning with a shorter person. If push comes to shove, they surmise, this person poses no physical threat, ergo, I can patronise or jokingly insult them without fear of consequence. It may be a very basic level of thinking but it’s hard to argue that a smaller person isn’t typically more vulnerable. (Although obviously them being correct doesn’t make them in the right — they are no less of a TERRIBLE person.)

I hope that doesn’t make me sound like an apologist for heightism, because nothing could be further from the truth. Being treated like a 12 year old has been the bane of my life in oh-so-many ways. I have no doubt that I’ve been treated as less competent and less intelligent than was fair. And the figures showing the trend of men’s earnings going up by every extra inch of height are quite something. Should they complain, I’m sure they’d be accused of having a Napoleon complex! That all fits the definition of discrimination and therefore awareness of the issue should surely make some gains.

But overall, it doesn’t feel right to categorise it with other social prejudices because it is hard to argue that heightism is as overt. It may be ingrained in a lot of people’s behaviour but it’s not institutionalised in society in the same way at all. People can make jokes about my height and I rarely mind at all because my experiences aren’t raw and painful. Dealing with society’s bullies may be a more general approach but would be a more efficient way of tackling the issue.