My Body, My Self by Carol P. Christ


The other night I was invited out by a new friend to meet a group of his friends. It was a lovely gathering, and I felt welcomed. As we hugged good night outside the restaurant, one of the women commented, “Wow you really are tall.” Without missing a beat, I responded, “Yes it has been the bane of my life.” As the words tumbled out of my mouth I was aware that I spoke them dispassionately, not as is usual with a catch in my throat.

Don’t get me wrong about this. I don’t go around hating myself or my body. I know I am striking. I know I stand out in a crowd. I believe I am beautiful even as I age. Still, it is difficult to be singled out as different—especially when you are just going about your business. Moreover, comments about a woman’s height are never neutral: women who are taller than men challenge gender norms by our sheer physical being. Part of what is being said is almost always: you shouldn’t be so tall.

One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn’t the same.

That night, the other woman responded, “It must be difficult.”

Difficult! Imagine that clothes are almost never designed to fit you. Imagine watching short women and girls snatch up all of the tall boys and men (because they can), leaving you without a dance partner or a boyfriend. Imagine your thoughts being interrupted as you walk down a street by someone commenting, “she must be two meters tall.” Imagine trying to find a small car you can fit into. Imagine airplane seats. Imagine not wanting to have your picture taken because you tower over the others. Imagine never seeing anyone who looks like you.

When I express the negative side of being a tall woman, others are taken aback. “Models are tall,” they say. “I would love to be tall,” they say. “No you wouldn’t,” I respond, “not if you knew what it is like to be a really tall woman.” Here is a list of 12 [less than pleasant] Things Tall Women Deal With.

But I didn’t say any of that the other night.

I spoke dispassionately.

The next day I wondered: could I change the script?

Several of my friends and I have been talking about changing the “tracks” in our minds. We are refusing to let our minds follow well-worn paths that lead to self-recrimination or self-pity. When I ask the question, “why me,” I tell myself, “I am not going there,” and divert my mind to another place.

Could I do something like this with questions about my height? Instead of expressing outrage or pain when being singled out, could I just not go there? Taking it a step further, could I disarm the questioner and affirm my body and my self dispassionately and with a smile?

“Wow you’re tall!”

“Yes I am.”

“You are really tall.”

“Pretty amazing, huh?”

“She must be two meters.”

“Actually, I am 1.85.”

“Do you play basketball?”

I love swimming in the sea.

“How tall are you anyway?”

Taller than just about everyone in the world.”

I am fond of saying that diversity and difference are the great gifts of bounteous earth. May we learn.

 

Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator living in Lasithi, Crete. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.



Categories: Earth-based spirituality, Embodiment, Feminism, Feminism and Religion

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19 replies

  1. Thanks, Carol, for this most interesting insight. I’ve never been able to understand why most people feel free to comment on other people’s appearance. You’ve really made me think about what tall women endure as you go through life.

    Being 5’3″, I’ve had the opposite problem, that of feeling insignificant and without that quality known as “presence.” And when I reluctantly undertake the task of shopping for clothes, they’re almost always too long. Sometimes manufacturers do offer a petite size, but mostly it’s a matter of paying for alterations.

    Did you ever hear of the remark Gloria Steinem reputedly made about her visit to Japan? She said later she couldn’t understand why she felt so safe there. Then she realized she was taller than all the men.

    I’m sorry for all you’ve had to go through because of being tall. You’ve made me realize that even women I envy have their troubles. Glad to hear that it’s becoming a non-issue for you. Blessed be.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’m tall as well–not quite 6 feet tall, but tall nevertheless. Of course people have felt free to comment on my height especially when I’ve been in countries such as Nepal and India where I stick out even more than in the U.S. My daughter is over 6 feet, has embraced her height, and married a slightly-built man who is 5 feet 8 inches (at best). He loves it when she wears high heels. So, maybe we are slowly transforming, becoming more accepting of difference.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience as a tall woman and also how you are learning to shift the way you see yourself and how you respond to the ubiquitous comments on your height that people seem to feel entitled to make. The video and the article you shared were thought-provoking as well.

    Because women are taught to identity with our appearance and are identified with it by others, probably most of us have some aspect of appearance that is difficult. But not everyone is routinely subjected to commentary from strangers. Thank you for helping us all to be more aware and sensitive.

    I am shorter than average but not petite. Despite being fairly trim, I have such wide hips and shoulders that I have to wear extra large and large sizes respectively. Pants that fit my hips are way too long for me. Much rolling of cuffs and tucking into socks because I am not dexterous with needle and thread. Few people nowadays comment on my hips, but when I was younger, men could be extremely unkind and I suffered a few rejections specifically because my hips were considered by some men to be unattractively big.

    My maternal line has female pattern baldness. My mother and grandmother wore wigs at my age. I favor hats and kerchiefs. I often receive compliments on my head wear. People assume I am making a fashion statement. I suppose I am, but I am also covering exposed scalp. Sometimes I meet the compliments with assertions that I have almost no hair–I guess because I am unhappy about it. Maybe I will experiment with simply saying thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. At 5′ 2 1/2″, I was “tall” when I was about twelve years old. Well, taller than many of my peers. Now, as I age, I’ve recently learned on the scale in the doctor’s office that I’m about 5’1″ tall. One of my favorite jokes is that when I first met the children of many of my friends, they were shorter than I was…..and now they’re all taller than I am. They grew up. Waaaay up. Not me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish I were tall. My mother was a mere five feet tall, and that made me feel tall, even though I was and still am a mere 5’4.”

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  6. This was beautiful to share, Carol. Thank you for sharing. It was inspiring :)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for sharing, always with such honesty. I have to say BRAVA! for: “The next day I wondered: could I change the script?” Good for you … encouraging ourselves and others to accept who we are and then expressing it by “changing the script” means we finally belong without the constant need to fit in (I really like how Brene Brown speaks to the differences between belonging and fitting in) whether that is physical appearance or personal behaviors and beliefs. Blessings!

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  8. I loved this, Carol. Though I am not tall, I can really relate to being different and wanting to change the script. I think the percentage of tall women and deaf women may be about the same. Both you and I probably experience being the only one with a unique and challenging trait almost anytime we are with other people.

    There are negatives about being physically different from others, in finding space to be or interact that works for us, in dealing with the challenges of our environment. But that doesn’t mean we have to see ourselves in a negative light, as you so eloquently explain here. Like the delight one can find in being a tall and gorgeous woman, I find delight in my difference at times. Consider for example the option of not hearing a peep even when there is a screaming baby on the seat next to me during a flight.

    A point I want to add is that we who are different see a lot in the interactions and social scripts that others just don’t see because they don’t have our experience. So, what you offer here is some insight that others who are not tall women can learn from. Brava!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It must be very difficult to be tall. I think many of us don’t fit the “norm” in some way, but most of it can hide it better than a tall person can. I really like your idea of changing the tracks in your mind. That is something I’m working on, too. Very few of us have what Western society considers to be the “perfect” body. I’m 5’4″ and I often have to get clothes hemmed because they are too long for me. I have a pear-shaped body and clothes tend to be made for a more symmetrical shape. Fortunately I have learned to wear long skirts that accent my narrow waist and hide my hips a bit. I always wear hats because they are fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love the idea of changing the script. So simple, so freeing, and saying it out loud I think is really transformational. Yes, you are tall. And beautiful. And strong.

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  11. yeah being a tall man can be a pain too for much the same reasons! the average person is shorter and thinner than i am, for sure….but i don’t worry about the bun, being a baldhead. thanks for adding humor and compassion as always.

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  12. My relatives used the family ‘too tall to be desirable’ as an excuse to teach me that the only space I would ever squeeze into would be the one I constructed myself, and followed up by teaching me to sew. So I was frequently the only one whose clothes really fit, and were shamelessly copied from haute couture instead of foraged from department stores. My hems were often the first to be high (dating myself here) the first to be long, and the first to transform into pantsuits. I was frequently the only one who had a new uniform every week (my occupation ate uniforms for dessert) When feminism and women’s studies and horrors! women-centered religious studies came along, I was well prepped for what I was giving up by leaving social norms and consensus and looking within for my own (mis)guidance.
    I was fully prepared and equipped to recognize the concept that job one for the patriarchy is to make women feel they owe something to anyone who can suggest that some trait is an inadequacy. Then they will turn around and ask you to get them something from the top shelf.

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    • Hi Nancy, I too was an expert seamstress and once made a Vogue Paris Original suit designed by Dior with 3 types of linings, bound buttonholes, the works. And yes, I could finally buy clothes when mini skirts came in, mine were just shorter than on the others, hee hee. Haven’t sewed clothes since then though I still do curtains.

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  13. At 1,86 cms, I am a tall Amazon as well :-) As a girl, I never realised that my height could be perceived as an issue, until one equally tall girl asked me (when we were alone at a bus stop) if I took medication for my height. Excuse me, medication!?

    You can influence your weight and size, maybe – but your height is something you can never change. I loved that you said that we challenge gender norms by our sheer height. I guess that lines up pretty well with what kind of person I want to be.

    Yes, some parts of it sucked. When I was younger, I walked around in men’s clothes more than I liked, but bless the tall women who started tall ladies’ fashion shops. And I wear high heels, even if that makes me taller than my husband. He knew of my height and my love of shoes when we married!

    I am not boisterous or silver-tongued, but in order to dominate a room, all I pretty much have to do, is to stand up :-)

    Curiously, a lot of women from English speaking countries share the exerience that random strangers comment on their height. I find that rude, and I don’t share that experience myself. Perhaps people in my country don’t care to comment that much about others in public. And part of it may be that there are a lot of tall girls in my country. In the tall ladies’ fashion shops, I am very rarely the tallest…

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    • Apparently some of my relatives put their adolescent daughter on some kind of hormones in order to prevent her from becoming as tall as me! Can you believe it?

      You are lucky to have tall shopsin Norway. There are very few in the US. In England Marks and Spencer does two things. Most of their slacks come in short med tall. Also while US stores stop at 14 (English 16) Marks goes up to 20 and 22 in many of their clothes. These are not women’s or plus sizes but simply are the next size up. In the US if you are more than 14 you often cannot find anything to fit because plus sizes are differently designed for women who are not just a few pounds overweight but are specially designed for seriously overweight women. I.e. if you are short or average size you can buy a bigger size when you gain weight but if you are tall you can’t.

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  14. Every woman in patriarchy struggles with the idea that we do not measure up. (This is the point of most advertising—buy our product and you will measure up!) As a teenager, I was considered “too tall and too smart for boys”. By being involved with an extremely active Girl Scout troop I survived those years. As a young adult woman I embraced ultra femininity as a means of survival. After college graduation, I interviewed for a job as a flight attendant for TWA. At that time the job was called a hostess position–another story. That interview, in the fall of 1968 was conducted by a white woman at a hotel on Miami Beach, Florida. The airline had advertised a height limit of 5’10”. At age 23 I was 5’10 1/2″, but I decided to try for the job anyway. After a few minutes the interviewer told me she thought I would be good at the job, but she would have to send me to Kansas City, TWA’s home base, for a special interview. She said she could hire white women directly, but she had to send Spanish-speaking, or African-American, or over-the- height-limit applicants to Kansas City for this special interview. This is an example of how un-self conscious the airline and its employees were about their discriminatory practices!

    I was hired. My height brought constant comments from strangers. The most common was, “How tall are you anyway?” This was the dawn of the “jet age” bringing bigger and wider aircraft into service where my height proved to be an asset in many ways including loading the overhead bins. Still, I found those comments disconcerting and irritating. One of my flying partners had people continually asking her why her arms were so hairy. She started responding “Because my father was an ape!”

    I was a union activist and proud to be part a prolonged strike against TWA in 1973 as we struggled to improve our working conditions. We eventually started our own woman-lead union, IFFA, The Independent Federation of Flight Attendants formed after intense dissatisfaction with earlier male-dominated unions. IFFA was directly fueled by the “can-do attitude” of the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s. I’m mentioning this because I had a huge attitude readjustment after becoming a feminist and then coming-out as a lesbian. We called ourselves women-identified-women. All the sex-role stereotypes we grew up with were up for intense review.

    At women’s bookstores, festivals conferences, demonstrations and dances I encountered no woman who met the idealized image! I saw a multitude of women who were uniquely themselves. We encouraged and emboldened each other to BE REAL.

    I flew 5 million miles as a flight attendant for TWA in the sixteen years I worked there. Later, when those strangers asked that same question, “How tall are you anyway?” I began to respond by saying I did not give out my measurements. Perhaps not the best answer, but it was an attempt claim my power and my integrity. And it does require the questioner to consider that the question was not appropriate!

    In a woman-honoring culture we would all praise our bodies as a “sacred expression of humanity”. We can seek to change society, not our bodies, and to love ourselves along every day of the journey. Blessed be!

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  15. Every woman struggles in some way – for me it was being fat, though I never was I thought I was…too fat too thin (now its that one) too petite, too tall – The culture has objectified us to such an extreme that we have all been swallowed up…. EVERYTHING is predicated on how we look and I just hate it

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  16. Fascinating post. I wonder how my (Tall) daughters will navigate this. I wonder if they will have a planet to be tall on. My friend Tiffany is quite tall, and she wears very high heels to be as tall as possible. I always love that.

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  17. Love the idea of changing the script. Good call.

    Like

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