On Being Tall – Is It The Last Physical Trait We’re Allowed To Notice?

I am not tall. I used to think I was tall, but that was only because I was taller than everyone else in my family. When Marianne asked me how tall I was I told her that I was six feet tall. She said that she didn’t think I was. She was, in fact, quite sure I was not. I didn’t recall actually measuring myself, but I knew that my father had always said that he was six feet tall and also knew that I was a little taller than Dad. When I explained my reasoning to her, her reply was classic: “That doesn’t make you six feet tall. It only makes your dad a bigger liar than you are.”

Marianne had more tall genes in her family. She has a brother who topped out at 6’5″. Before age-induced shrinkage, she herself was 5’8″. Many husbands tend to be taller than their wives, but our similarities in height has its advantages – for example, neither of us needs to adjust the seat or mirrors when we get into the other’s car. This has actually proved to be a bigger benefit than I might have expected.

Our two sons grew to be taller than their father, and not by a little. The older is 6’3″ and his “little” brother is 6’6″. I found a place that will calculate statistical height distributions, and this second kid turns out to be in the100th percentile, meaning that he is taller than 99.96% of American males. I am much closer to average, being taller than only 64.34% of men in the U.S. I’ll take being above average in any way I can get.

But to get back to my tallest offspring – It has been around this second lad that I have noticed something: A guy’s height is the last physical trait that anyone is allowed to comment on in public.

I have lost count of how many times a server at a restaurant or even a random stranger will see him and say “Wow, how tall are you?” He reports that the comments are an almost daily occurrence in his life. There are the questions, the plain observations (“Wow, you’re tall!” or “I’ll bet you played basketball.”) and the jokes (“How’s the weather up there?”). He says the jokes are the worst, mainly because they are so unoriginal. As his parents, we got lots of “Wow, what did you feed him?!”

If it was ever socially acceptable at all, it has been a long time since you could go up to a person in public and say things like “Boy, are you short!” or “Hey there big boy, nice suit – did the tent and awning company have a sale?” When I was in middle school, my best friend was pretty hefty, and people would call us Laurel & Hardy. Even noticing things in a complimentary way is off limits these days. I have long been reluctant to compliment an unusually attractive woman because it can certainly come off as creepy or a lame attempt to hit on her. But it is still fine all day, every day to bring up height when talking to a tall guy.

I have learned (vicariously, of course) how many problems all that height brings with it. When my tall son was growing up, he got to a place where it was hard to find size 16 shoes with any kind of style to them. Even now, he informs me that all of the “Big & Tall” stores are full of things for the 350 pound guy of my height but almost nothing for the trim guy who stands 6’6″. Internet shopping has been a blessing to guys of his stature. And thank goodness for guys like Uncle Bill who has been a source of seldom-worn things like suits.

Even riding in a car can be a problem. When I bought a little Mazda Miata roadster, this son was able to fit into the passenger seat only with the greatest effort and flexibility. He could at least sit upright with the top down, but then the top of the windshield was eye level, requiring either craning his neck to se over the windshield or scrunching down to look through it. Using it to teach him to drive the stick shift was out of the question as there was no way he could fold himself under the steering wheel and have enough leg movement to work the pedals.

I suppose the upside to the comments and jokes this kid gets about his stature is that they are not meant as ridicule, but come with a touch of envy. We think about how great it would be to see over everyone else in a crowd or to easily reach items on the top shelf at a store. We do not think about how pricey shoes and clothing can be and how certain popular cars or pieces of furniture would not be not be an option.

I guess height turns out to be like most things – we all think it is great to be above average, but getting too far above average brings its own problems. Like the unsolicited observations from random strangers. And in case you are curious, I have been told that the weather “up there” is pretty much exactly the same as it is for those of us down below.

COAL Update: OK, it is time to get this thing back under control. I inadvertently forgot to add a COAL update two weeks ago, and then forgot that I was running a week late when I added one last week. So we will fix things by adding the one that got skipped plus the current one from last week. After the most recent, there are only two more cars to cover so this project is almost at an end.


34 thoughts on “On Being Tall – Is It The Last Physical Trait We’re Allowed To Notice?

  1. My mother has always been a touch taller than my father. Now that they are in their mid- to late-70s, shrinkage has evened things up a bit.

    Obviously my mother has the tall genes. My maternal grandmother was 5’10” and my maternal grandfather was 6’1″. My mother’s height peaked at 5’8″ – when she was in fifth grade. Naturally she was subjected to various unthoughted comments.

    My maternal grandparents were once in line at the grocery store. This well-fed woman was behind them and began looking them over, proclaiming “I bet you had tall kids!”. My grandmother, a quick thinker for the ages and one to never mess with, played along. “Well, our oldest daughter is 5’8″, our late daughter was 5’4″, and our son is 6’8″. None of them are fat.” It seems the curious woman then turned red and shut her mouth.

    That particular uncle definitely had trouble with certain vehicles. Toward the end of his life he had gravitated towards full-sized pickups and Suburbans as they weren’t a problem. Earlier he had had a ’76 Monte Carlo, a ’68 Dodge Coronet sedan, an ’85 Buick LeSabre, and a VW Beetle – which was the outlier.

    My cousin once needed him to relocate his Camaro to a place several miles away. My uncle simply looked at him and said “think about it; are you serious?”. He finally did it, but watching him climb into that ’80s model Camaro was not pleasant as it required a lot of contortion and was obviously uncomfortable.

    Incidentally, my uncle’s wife is 5’2″.

    At 5’11”, I am satisfied with my height. Like you and Marianne, my 5’8″ wife and I never have to adjust a seat or mirror.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jason, your comment reminds me that I used to work with a copywriter on a creative team about 25 years ago, who was well ever 6 feet tall. He had an old model American car that he was barely keeping alive, including partial engine rebuilds, only because he couldn’t fit in most models that were new, and certain not inexpensive Japanese vehicles, like most of us were driving! The best sitting, and easiest in/out to vehicle I ever owned was an early model Toyota Scion xB (the square box, not the later one after they ruined it). It sat like an English cab. I read an article back then that stated this car, as well as the Honda square box Element,were being hoarded by old people for their easy egress and ability to seat tall people in a small format.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I admire the plain spoken ways of your family, and your grandmother’s reply is a classic.

      I had never really thought about height and cars until talking with my brother in law Bill many years ago, when he said that he avoided cars with sunroofs because that feature removes a precious inch or two of headroom, which is a huge difference for him.


      • JP, I remember when shopping for my ’96 Thunderbird I did not want a moonroof due to the encroachment of the ceiling onto my head. My parent’s ’95 Cougar had a moonroof and it was horrible to drive – at my 5’11”!!!

        Perhaps being more awake now (I commented within 15 minutes of waking up this morning) I can more coherently comment, but the simply cruelty some endure to their height is really rather sad. One of my grandfather’s sisters was tall and she got called “moonraker” by an uncle. A female cousin in my class in high school was tall from kindergarten on and was teased relentlessly. I know my uncle was teased about it but he could hold his own with such persons.

        A person cannot control their height any more than they can control having excessive body hair, hearing loss, the pitch of their voice, or being left handed. Then again, those people get torment for such things also. People are just cruel sometimes, intentionally or not.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Marianne reached her 5’9 height while she was still in grade school. She does not remember it as a pleasant experience. Height is a weird thing with the sexes – almost everyone sees height in a man as a positive, but tall women seem to have a limited fan base. Marianne used to be concerned that she might be taller than me when she wore heels, but I told her it made no difference whatsoever to me. You are exactly right – we get the body we get, for better or for worse, so we might as well settle in and be comfortable with it.


  2. Let’s not forget that most of us shrink in old age (I think). I have a doctors check up report for me in my 20s that lists me as 5’ 10.75” as measured on one of those things you stand on. And my last Medicare check up lists me as a measured 5’ 8.5”. Where’d those two inches go? Since I used to wear size 10 shoes in my 20s, and now where a solid size 12, I can only assume that my body is melting down into my feet!

    BTW, all my “willowy” pals over 6 feet have also had back problems, some needing fused discs. Hope that’s not a problem for you too….

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is another problem for taller people – back pain as they age. I have avoided it, but then I am not very tall. My brother in law does complain of back issues these days.

      What a great theory about our height melting into our feet as we age. Though I think a little of it goes into our ears, too. 🙂


  3. Wow, struck a nerve with this one. I topped out at 6′ 1.5″, and got lots of “I bet you play basketball” as a teen. I never bothered to explain how I was hopelessly klutzy and did NOT play ball. As Andy says I’m also getting into more joint problems as I age. One of my good friends is rather short and he’s a little self conscious about it, but I figure he’ll still be doing wilderness canoe trips when I’m in a wheelchair. 😦

    Is tallness the last physical trait you can brag about? My sister in law is obsessed with how tall her sons are, which is very tiresome. She always made a big deal about how her #2 son was incrementally taller than our boy, as they are the same age. Still lots of facebook posts about “We had the kids home for the weekend, just look at all these TALL men! They’re so…. TALL!” Yes, yes, we know….

    Not that there’s no good points to being tall, when visiting Beijing I was a head taller than everyone else and always had a clear view at tourist attractions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My son John never played basketball either, beyond a year or two in middle school. His older but shorter brother who was obsessed with basketball was terribly jealous of John’s build, which someone really into the game could have used to great effect. But he gets the basketball comments constantly.


  4. I claim 6 feet even though I’m actually 5′ 11 3/4″. I don’t think age-related shrinking has started for me yet. There are few downsides to being this tall. I wouldn’t trade it.

    Margaret is about 5’9″. But she’s very long waisted — she has a long torso. So when we sit down, she appears to be taller than me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, it’s a “thing”. My bro and I are literally the same height, and he wears 34 inch length jeans whereas I have to order 29 inch, and “long” shirts! The long torso thing is a quandary… i have to wear long dress shirts, but a long suit jacket doesn’t “look right”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I am satisfied with my height (which is good, since I can’t do anything about it). I am tall enough to reach most things on the top shelf at the store (standing on my tip toes) but average enough that fitting into clothes or cars is something I have to think about.


  5. I used to think older people, especially men, exaggerated their height until I got old. I have lost two inches and it was traumatic going under six feet. I was in denial for a long time but the medical people keep measuring me every year to torment me. Human nature makes it easy to cling to your identities, like I keep thinking I have a 34 waist!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your stories are all amusing. My father isn’t so tall, 5’9” maybe, but his brother was 6’2”. We do have to wonder how the genes pick/choose who to give height to. My fathers was always looking at tall people and commenting on it. I think he would have liked to be taller.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I come from a family of leprechauns so at 5 ft 4 inches and the tallest of the females, I grew up feeling tall, or at least not short, if that makes sense. My dad was 5 ft 6, my brothers 5ft. 9 or 10, but my nephews are all 6 ft and over. I think kids are generally taller these days, and have bigger feet. Try buying size 5 shoes, when most shoe companies start at 6.

    I had been made aware that the paramedics would come and help if an elderly person fell, so when my mother fell last summer, (the day after starting a new medication) I called them and asked if someone could help me get her up. Her knees are bad and she couldn’t get into a position where I could help her, and with my bad back I couldn’t hoist her up. One of the paramedics who came was extremely tall, and I made the mistake of asking him how tall he was, something that I wouldn’t ordinarily do, but it was early morning and I wasn’t really awake. I think he said he was 6-9 or more? Certainly he was the tallest person I had ever seen. Well the look of annoyance on his face made me regret those words that had slipped out of my mouth. What I really meant was, it must come in handy with his work, as he scooped mom up and set her on her feet with no problem! It must be tiring hearing all the comments, almost as bad as being too short.

    Re the car…..I’m drooling….and red too! I always wanted a red Miata, but after my winter driving experiences with the two seater Fiero knew it wasn’t practical for me, as I only own one car.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember being in the high school band. My mother came to one of our marching shows and thought she could find me by looking for one of the tallest kids. Haha, there were lots of guys taller than I was, but she (at 5’2″, though she always insisted it was 5’3″) always thought I was tremendously tall.

      I fully understand the shoe thing, as Marianne is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The women who wear 7s and 8s and 9s have it really good when it comes to selection.

      I don’t know many Miata owners who have relied on it as an only car, but if you lived in a place with reasonable winters, it would probably have worked OK. When I would read Miata ads, it seems that a really high percentage of them were painted red. Trying to find another color (which I wouldn’t have minded) or an automatic transmission (which would be a disqualifier for me) was rare.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. JP, I am 5’ 9” tall and have no siblings to compare to. By the time I was in my teens, I was already taller than my parents. My father was 5’ 3” and my mother was 5’ 2”. My maternal grandparents were also short. My father said his mother was taller than most women, but not excessively so. I guess my tall genes came from her – I never met her. My parents used to use the old “must’ve been the milkman” as the reason I was so tall and they were not. We did have milk home delivery. By the time I was in high school, I had a 31” inseam, so jeans were long enough, but dress pants looked like I was waiting for the floods. Likewise for long-sleeved dresses or blazers – they all looked like they belonged to my shorter sister. I learned how to sew and my parents bought me a sewing machine and I made all my own clothes until catalogs and stores started featuring clothing for tall women.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, clothing selections for taller women have been a problem.

      Genetics is really funny. Marianne is one of 5, and all are on the tall side but one sister, who was quite petite, maybe 5’3″. She married a guy who was the shortest in his large family. 2 of their 4 kids are pretty short, one is close to average, and the youngest (a boy) is probably 6’4″, a real mountain of a guy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Years ago clothing made for tall women did not fit properly all all, so I sewed everything. Then clothing manufacturers got smart and made a normal fit with a longer inseam which worked perfectly for me. That is amazing – what a difference in heights!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. T&C – Wow, that was lucky that you’re test-driving one T&C van and you see a similar, but better one … bet that first guy was shocked when you brought it back and said “no thanks”. I had no idea transmission problems were that much … $2,500.00 and I can only imagine how much it would cost now.

    Mazda Miata – Is the word “snazzy” still en vogue to describe a sports car, because that is how I would describe this car – it’s beautiful, the sporty design and I love the bright red color. I’d have to admire it only as I never learned to drive a stick shift. My VW Super Beetle had a stick for over 55 (I believe that was when you put it in second gear), but no clutch. I laughed when this car got the primo garage spot and you said “Sorry Honda Fit, I guess you are an outdoor dog now.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Miata was one car that looked better in pictures than it looked in real life. It was very presentable, but it was certainly not a show car. And how odd is it that we “car people” will put the older, cheaper car in the garage and leave the newer, more valuable one outside.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, it makes sense in a weird way doesn’t it? My mother would occasionally mention their Monarch, the car you identified in the baby picture of me. At the time they lived in Toronto before moving to the suburbs and taking the streetcar everywhere was common. So, he rented someone’s garage to store the Monarch and only took it out on Sundays. My mom said if they didn’t go on a Saturday drive, he’d go over and wash it and wax it … I guess using the hose was part of the rental deal. 🙂 He sold it when we moved to the suburbs when I was two, as it was a new sub, no one had garages and he bought a VW Beetle.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Reaching six feet was somehow associated with stature in our generation, J.P., wasn’t it? I remember how I longed to hit the number (and never did – 5′-10″ was the best I could do). Both of my sons passed me by, and my daughter now looks me eye-to-eye when she wears heels. But the opposite problem held true for my daughter’s volleyball teammates. I’m sure they wanted to be shorter, at least off the court. These girls were tall, and even taller in heels, of course. You had to wonder who they would end up with someday – basketball players?

    More disheartening than not reaching six feet is literally heading the other direction. I believe Father Time is weighing heavily enough on me that I lose a few millimeters every year. At least it feels that way…

    I can finally make a car comment on J.P.’s Blog! I do NOT fit in the Mazda Miata, despite my average height. My genes include a torso taller than most, which puts most of my height above the waist. When I test drove a Miata and felt my hair come in contact with the roof above, I knew it wasn’t meant to be. Settled for the rather pedestrian 626 instead. Man, the Miata was one cool car. Lucky you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is funny how just a few inches in height make such a difference. My law school roommate was 5’7″, so maybe 4 inches difference between us back then. I was in a group of friends who were not shy about teasing one another about almost everything, and this guy got his share of short jokes. His girlfriend was probably 5″8, but that has not seemed to bother either of them as they have been married for many years now.


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