The Short End

Do not read this if talks of dramatic height disparities among human beings send you diving into a pool of emotions.

In my ongoing quest to wipe out the oppression and unfairness wherever we imagine it to be, I have always wondered if the issue of “heightism” is actually an issue worth wiping out. Nobody, these days, would even think to criticize someone on grounds of race or creed or disability or sexual orientation, yet somehow why does it seems to be acceptable to comment on someone’s height, or rather, lack of it?

One of the best things about me is my name, Naseeha, of Arabic origin meaning Advice/Adviser, but my nickname has been “shorty/little one/tiny/short stack/kid” since before high school. I don’t have a middle name but I’ve always thought that having one is exceptionally cool. The family story is that in my youngest years, I was so short I could go straight under the kitchen table without bending and even left space between my head and the table.

A name is an extremely large part of who we are. It is what we use to identify ourselves to others as well as what others use in order to recognize us.

Nicknames, on the other hand, reflect how others see the person.


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Nicknames are a weird phenomenon usually familiar and humorous given to a person as a supposedly appropriate replacement for or addition to the proper name; a substitute given to a person in fun, affection, and belittlement, usually descriptive. They are informal, usually easy to say, and a little lazy—as though uttering a person’s proper name takes too much effort. But there’s also a little more going on in our tendency to assign nicknames to ourselves and to others. A nickname, therefore takes this public acknowledgment of that with which we are familiar to another level. One damning nickname uttered by the class bully can follow a child well into young-adulthood. No matter how hard some people try, certain nicknames are just inescapable.

But if you dig deep enough it appears that you can find rhyme and reason behind the most ridiculous thing and it soon becomes the most popular catchphrase in a household, getting said on a daily basis. Like short-stack.

“How tall are you?” I get this question almost every time I walk out the door, mostly from curious strangers. First, full disclosure: I like being little. It is this feature that makes me so different. How tall I am, correlates closely with how confident I feel when surrounded by people taller than myself.  Size matters only where it is relative. It seems obvious because you can’t feel small when you are taller than everyone in the room, right? Wrong. We aren’t in the habit of recognizing how our sense of self in physical space shapes the way we think and forms part of our mental well being. It is not just our mind speaking to our body: it’s our body speaking to our mind.

It’s not that tall people feel superior, or more effective, or demand to be talked to with particular deference. It’s just how shorter people treat them. For a start, you literally have to look up to the taller person. And the taller person has to look down. Tall people get more space because they take more space. Maybe that reads across into their attitude to life.

If I were fat then exercise and dieting would be the answer while if I were ugly, I could rely on plastic surgery to reverse the savagery that nature had visited upon my visage. But since I am vertically challenged, there is currently no surgical resource for what is essentially a disability of attractiveness.

My theory: A nickname comes to stand for how we see ourselves (no kidding!).


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Whilst the long-legged may go on effortlessly about their business – staring straight ahead, riding roller coasters and rocking short dresses with flats, we, the bite-sized of the human race, will still be coping with neck aches, getting rejected from theme parks and trying not to fall over in those 8-inch heels we invest in (ladies). I, and those just like me can only hope and pray that science will soon find a cure for the small fry among us. Keep hope alive, short people—there’s a light (which we probably can’t see).


– Naseeha Tayob

TWITTER: @naseehatayob