On Smallness

Wedged between two men in the supermarket, both towering so high above me that I couldn’t tap their shoulders if I wanted to. This smallness is a confusing reality that constantly clashes with how I feel inside.

I don’t think it’s going to shock anyone who has ever met me that I’m a little on the small side. I’m below the average height for women, to say nothing of the average height of men. Not only am I short, but I’m pretty slight as well. No matter how I feel about my body, I am smaller in more ways than one. I am so small that most often by age 12 or 13 most children have surpassed me in height and weight. So small that nearly no one I know has failed to remark on it. So small that people have tripped over me in a crowd.

The problem with my smallness is not that I don’t like it. I love being able to maneuver through crowds easily, I love the ease in which I pick things up from the floor, or the ability to fit in any seat or space allocated for people. I even like the obvious joy in peoples faces when they are seated next to me on an airplane, secure in the fact that I won’t be fighting with them over that desperate small wedge of space between the seats. Smallness means that most things seems are enough. That I need very little to continue on, and that things feel relatively larger than life to me are just some of the benefits of being small but the problem is this:

I don’t really feel small. Small is a feeling other people seem to assign to me.

I view myself as big and strong and loud. I view myself as being extremely capable. In my head I imagine, if anything, taking up too much space and living my life so out loud that it turns other people away from me. I view myself as a loud, giant, colorful peacock in public. I am more likely to have strangers look at me which makes it feel as if I am a million feet tall and as if I tower over everyone else. So the shock comes when I bump in to someone and they’re nearly twice as large as me and I fall backwards under the pressure of their size.

It’s an experience I have often. Standing next to someone and suddenly realizing they are towering over me. My husband is 12 inches (31cm) taller than me but I never think of him as tall despite he often sees things I can’t, can reach things I couldn’t even jump for, and just has an easier time doing things in a world more closely designed for his height. He has more leverage in most spaces because that’s what size is in this world: leverage. Size is the ability to take up and claim space and it’s something I feel like I am doing but I’m not really because of my stature.

How can you exist in such smallness and have it somehow be invisible to you? How can it feel normal to have to scale shelves in the store to reach things or realize that the handles on the bus are too high to hold or that the stairs are just too far apart to be comfortably walked up if you’re this size? An entire world designed around people taller than me right down to kitchen counters and right up to the bed I lay in at night.

Yet I still feel like I am taking up all the air in a room or the space in a bus. Somehow I’m inconveniencing everyone and blocking their way at the same time I can slip right through the cracks between them. Am I broadcasting some signal that everyone else is picking up that somehow I am larger than I seem? Am I pushing my way successfully through the world and leveraging my frame out to the ends of the space? I am just strange and people fear getting close to me? Or instead, are people afraid I’m so small that they will step on me? That they will break me? That I am glass and too minuscule and too frail to be bothered with?

I think the paradox of being human is difficult any way you slice it and the paradox of smallness is not unique. I’m a person who feels trapped inside of a small body with a large personality. At the same time I feel like my body is already too large and I could never fill it up meaningfully. I both feel the need to take up more space and show dominance, in work and friend spaces. I’d like to show that I am here and I am relevant and smart because I worry that my stature proceeds me. That being small leads people to dismiss me as young and stupid and meaningless.

I wouldn’t wish to be taller though. I’m used to myself and my body and my abilities and I appreciate the diminutive nature of myself. I wish instead that I knew that I was being perceived neutrally, more like the way I view myself. Instead what I have are a lifetime of snippets from people reminding me how small I am as if I would somehow forget. Friends, coworkers, bosses, mentors, teachers all gently chiding me – sometimes lovingly – that I am small. And honestly, sometimes that makes me feel small. That halfway through a conversation someone realizes they are looking down at me physically and then suddenly it leads to a snap judgement and they start looking down on me, verbally.

Short people have complexes about their shortness because people treat them as they’re younger and stupider because of their height.

I get lectured more often, ID checked more often, I’ve had strangers hold me back at intersections when they would never dare to do that to people taller than me. A combination of factors has led to strangers talking to me in softer, baby voices. Sometimes to my advantage in situations where I need help and sometimes it only serves to frustrate me when I already know how to do things. In work situations its basically been poison to the point where I have to constantly prove myself because I “seem so young” or I “don’t take up a room” in the same way as others.

As with most things in life, smallness is what you make of it. For the most part I enjoy it and embrace it but it does come with some odd downsides and it makes me feel other at times when many people might feel connected. I’m not completely alone though about 1% of the population on Earth is as small or smaller than me and though the number is lower here in Estonia, I keep it tucked away that there’s some people just like me.

As I grow older my shortness seems ever stranger. It feels like kids these days are getting taller every generation and people like me might exist less and less as nutrition standards improve and genetics does its thing. For now though, I will try to enjoy my smallness. And to try and remember that there is paradox and beauty in all things, even smallness.

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