Short men are often said to compensate for their lack of height by being aggressive – Napoleon being the usual example. I hope I don’t act that way, but, if I do, I have an excuse. You see, until I was about fourteen, I was tall for my age.
I don’t know how it is for girls, but height makes a difference to boys, if my experience is anything to go on. For a boy, being big means that you are afraid of very few other children. Generally, nobody tries to bully you, although every now and then another boy might pick a fight.
I imagine being tall could also make you a bully, although I don’t think I was one very often. With my head is full of Robin Hood and King Arthur, I was always looking out for opportunities to act the way they would, and once or twice I made a point of standing up for one or two of the weaker boys in my classes.
Still, a tall and stocky boy can hardly help but be an unconscious bully in some senses. Because of your build, you get used to people thinking twice about taking the ball away from you on the soccer or rugby field, and start to take advantage of the fact.
You know, too, that other children will generally give you more space to sit down, and tend to listen to you more. Even if you don’t actively take advantage of such treatment, you still come to expect it as your due, no matter how guilty the expectation makes you.
However, such things changed when I was in my mid-teens. At twelve, I was 175 centimeters, and taller than every boy in my class except one or two who had failed a grade or two. But somewhere between fourteen and fifteen, I stopped growing at about 180 centimeters. Meanwhile, the other boys were catching up. By the time I could vote, I was on the small side of medium.
Today, the only reason I’m not considered small is because of the arrival of even shorter immigrants from cultures with a traditionally low-protein diet. And even then, the second-generation immigrants are likely to be taller than me.
However, I sometimes wonder if my hind brain has caught up with this reality several decades later. I acknowledge my lack of height consciously, but not very deep down, I’m still conditioned by having been tall in my early years. No doubt the fact that I am usually fit and always stocky contributes to my denial.
At any rate, I’m told that I can still project the easy – or maybe arrogant – air of the tall. On some level, I assume my right to be treated like a tall person, and, bluff being so much a part of human relationships, I am often given it.
Occasionally, such assumptions clash with those of men who are actually tall. Their mild bewilderment amuses me, although I tell myself that if I’m not careful, my assumptions are going to result in me standing up at the wrong time to the wrong giant – possibly one with a gun.
However, the surest sign that I still think I’m tall is how rarely I think of such things. If, as feminists are apt to say, the greatest privilege is not to understand that you’re privileged, then the fact that I don’t usually act the way a short man is expected to is a good indication of how I tend to think.
In fact, mostly I don’t think of my height much at all, unless I’m straining to reach the top shelf in the kitchen. It’s only the behavior of others that reminds me of my relative lack of height, and how important that can be in male body language.