Tall or Short? Powerful or Weak?
For most people, meeting my eyes requires tilting their neck several degrees beyond the norm; watching them awkwardly pan upward is a part of my everyday life. My height is something that is impossible not to notice. When I am walking on the street or hanging out with friends at a party, people might stare. People might wonder what it feels like, as if the weather were different up here. For some teenagers, being tall feels like being a random tree towering above the short grass; their height becomes a form of insecurity, even as it offers one-of-a-kind access to the best views at a crowded concert. Height can also be perceived as intimidating or frightening, and influence the way that others form opinions of me. A recent incident, though, has cemented my understanding that there is nothing I can do to control my height, so I might as well embrace it.
It was a Saturday night, 10:16 pm to be exact. Suddenly, my annoying ringtone goes off; it was my mom. Already at that moment, I was confused as to why she was calling me; she was supposed to be attending an event, and at that time she would usually send a text message if she had something to say. As I answered my phone, I could barely hear my mother’s voice above the chatter and laughter of my close friends; I asked them to quiet down. Hearing the ripple of worry in my mother’s voice, who is usually as calm and serene as a mountain lake, I already suspected that something unforeseen was about to come my way. Fleeing the chaos of my friend’s bedroom, I headed down the staircase to speak to my mom, so distracted that my slippery socks almost dragged me down the bumpy incline. I settled in my friend’s kitchen, and took a seat at the table, telling my mom to go ahead.
“So you know Jennie’s mother, Lucia, right?”
“What about her?,” I said, standing up and pacing around the kitchen island in nervous loops like an agitated tiger in a circular cage.
“Lucia came up to me and told me how beautiful and tall you were.”
I paused, confused, and suddenly my mounting adrenaline dropped; I had not been expecting a compliment from this acquaintance’s mother to be the reason behind my mother’s odd tone. Unfortunately, it did not end there. “And?”
“And then she told me that you, Emma, needed to ‘cool down.’”
My jaw dropped. I was out of breath, as if I had just ran 20 miles. My palms began to sweat and I felt like my face was going to explode. At first I had no idea where this was coming from, or where it might be headed. She continued to interrogate my mother about my height, of all things! I felt as if this lady had just invaded my sense of self worth, attacking my personal space.
“She said that you were taking your power and putting it on other girls, demanding that they follow you.”
At this point, the reason behind my mother’s uncomfortable tone became lucid, and my own outrage began to bubble up again. It was evident that this woman had made this assumption because of my height, influenced only by appearances, and not by experience or valued evidence. Her rambling implied that because I am a tall and a social girl, I have power and am negatively forcing it on others. Of course my height is something that ensures my confidence, but in no way does it give me ‘power’. I left my friend’s house that night, still pondering the distressing idea that someone could have formed such a mistaken image of me.
After taking some time to reflect the following week, I have come to acknowledge that my height and the way other people feel about it, are simply beyond my control. It is sad that people make prejudiced assumptions about one another without interacting with them. This experience confirmed for me that prejudiced behavior exists, but in reflecting on the things Lucia said, I began to see how distant they are from myself, and from reality. This distance, however, makes me feel empowered. It helps me to realize what is controllable in my identity and what is not, and to see how much more important the parts are that I can control. Therefore, I refuse to let her comments interfere with my self-assurance. I now know that I need to focus on the controllable aspects of myself, such as my behavior and confidence. Those are things that are more important than the uncontrollable traits with which I was born.
Because of this incident, I have begun to look beyond the surface of a person’s uncontrollable traits, and more into the things that are controllable in a person. And if you were wondering, the weather is indeed nicer up here.