I am pretty tall by girl standards: just shy of 5’9.” I hit this height somewhere around seventh grade, so—as you can imagine—it has been a bit of a blessing and a curse through the years.
The benefits are numerous: I can gain weight without anyone noticing, I can rock leggings and boots, and it was never hard for me to get into bars or clubs when I was underage. (Not that I ever did that. Obviously. ;))
Overall, the tall life has been good to me, but it hasn’t been without its drawbacks. Pants and dresses are often too short, and I usually have to slouch in group photographs. The fear of standing out or being seen as a freak was crippling in middle school, and it was only recently that I finally lost my “tall girl slump.”
Also, several years ago, someone I loved very much had a very big problem with my height.
He wasn’t usually overt about his distaste for it, but he subtly made himself pretty clear. He showered me with compliments every time I wore flip-flops, and his compliments ceased the moment I put on heels.
Through time, my wardrobe began to reflect his preferences. I had never been good at walking in heels anyway, so I slowly threw away most of the ones I owned. I pretended this was my idea, and I replaced them with ‘comfortable’ ballet slippers or flats instead. When I absolutely had to buy new heels, I made sure to get the shortest ones I could find.
For the most part, my shoes were hideous. They would have looked great on my grandmother, but there was absolutely no reason a girl my age should have ever owned them—unless, of course, she was trying to please someone else.
After a few years of this, I finally started longing to wear ‘regular’ heels again. (My 5’6” sister had an incredible selection, and I would stare longingly at her closet every time I visited her.)
An upcoming wedding promised to be the perfect occasion, so instead of rushing out and buying new flats like usual, I went to the mall and bought a brand-new dress and the most beautiful pair of silver heels I had ever seen.
I tried the whole outfit on when I got home, and I couldn’t believe how gorgeous I felt in it. My legs were long and muscular, my posture was better, and I even found myself walking differently. I strutted in those heels like I was somebody, like I was one of those confident and sexy girls I had always wanted to be.
I couldn’t wait to show him how I looked, so I insisted he sit on the couch and wait for my big debut when he got home. I hurried to the bedroom to put everything back on, and then I sauntered out into the living room.
I expected his jaw to drop at the sight of me, and it did—though not for the reason I expected. “Whoa,” he stammered, looking me up and down like he didn’t even know me. “Those shoes are huge. You look like a yeti in those shoes.”
A yeti?? I can’t even explain to you the crush of devastation that seized me when I heard that word come out of his mouth. I’m surprised I didn’t start crying right on the spot, but I know my shoulders immediately slumped, and I felt like someone had just sucker-punched me in the gut.
“A yeti? Seriously? That’s what you think I look like right now?”
He seemed to realize he had misspoken, but he felt compelled to justify his words: “I mean, you’re just so huge. You’re so tall in those shoes.”
Heat rushed to my cheeks. “Well then, could you at least say I look like an Amazon woman or something with slightly positive connotations?”
He huffed. “What’s the difference?”
Now, I was mad. “Oh, I don’t know. One’s a beautiful, mythical warrior woman, and the other’s a snow beast. Why don’t you tell me which one you would prefer?”
He held up his hands to placate me. “Okay, fine. Whatever. I’m just saying you look huge in those shoes.”
As you can imagine, the night quickly devolved after that. Soon, we were yelling at each other, and soon, I was ripping off my heels and storming to the bedroom to take off my dress. I was crying, and he was defending himself, and then finally, he was telling me I really didn’t look so bad, and I should wear the shoes to the wedding anyway.
I protested, but he insisted. He apologized for hurting my feelings, and a couple of weeks later, I showed up at that wedding with my brand-new dress and those beautiful silver heels I had briefly loved so much.
Only this time, the magic wasn’t there like it had been before. Instead of viewing myself as one of those confident and sexy girls I had always wanted to be, I now saw myself as a too-tall freak. Instead of admiring my long and muscular longs, I only saw how big my feet were. Instead of embracing my new and improved posture, I slumped even harder to make myself seem shorter.
I suffered through the ceremony in a state of self-conscious misery, and I promptly hid my shoes under a table the second the reception began. I tossed them the back of my closet after the wedding, and I never wore them—or any heels—around him ever again.
I don’t tell you this story because I want you to feel sorry for me. I also don’t tell you this story because want you to dislike this guy. I tell you this story because I want you to know I finally found the courage to wear those heels again.
I found them in a box in my garage a few months ago. I had never been able to bring myself to throw them away, so there they were, just where I left them. They were covered in dust, and they had mostly faded from silver to beige, but they were nearly every bit as beautiful as I had once thought they were.
When I brought them inside and held them up against the other pairs of heels that now I wear practically every day, I realized how sensible they actually were. My imagination had somehow turned them into six-inch stripper heels, but in reality, they were maybe only three inches.
They certainly weren’t scandalous or inappropriate or huge like I remembered. And when I put them on again, I didn’t feel like a yeti at all. I just felt kinda… normal. Pretty—with slightly straighter posture than usual—but not that much different than any other day.
That’s when I finally put into words what I had intrinsically known from the very beginning: the yeti fight had never been about me, anyway.
It had been about him. It had always been about him. It had been about he fact that he wasn’t quite 5’11,” and he had always felt self-conscious about that.
Instead of acknowledging it, he projected his insecurities onto me, like his feelings of inadequacy were somehow my fault. The worst part is, I allowed this. I absorbed his fears like they were my own, and I cursed my height like I actually had the power to change it.
This realization got me thinking. How many other times in my life have I dulled myself down for fear of making someone else uncomfortable? How many times have I slouched, or deflected a compliment, or made fun of myself, or minimized my accomplishments? How often have I kept my mouth shut, or apologized for no reason, or pretended to be okay when I wasn’t?
The answer is: way more often than I would like to admit.
I thought about these things as I pulled those dusty silver shoes from my garage, and I made a pact with myself. Never, ever again was I going to apologize for being tall, or being brave, or being smart. Never, ever again was I going to pretend my feelings didn’t matter, just so someone else didn’t have to come to terms with their own uncertainties.
Because, when it comes down to it, I’m nearly 5’9.”
And that’s pretty freaking awesome.