Some days I feel like I’ve been writing the same blog post forever: it could be about weight loss surgery, it could be about skin lightening, it could be about body hair removal, but this time it’s about limb-lengthening surgery. It goes like this:
“[Men] feel that their lives would be better if only their [height] was more [taller].”
“They feel this way because of the barrage of media, both commercial and social, telling them there’s only one way to look good and feel good about yourself. They’re certainly not wrong about the social stigma attached to being [short]”
“They spend money, time, and often risk trying to change their body in this magic way that will solve their problems.”
“Some [doctors] specialize in this issue and make a lot of money helping them get what they dream about.”
“Sometimes it does solve (some of) their problems, but mostly it leaves them [taller], but still struggling with whatever it is they haven’t learned to appreciate about themselves, as well as other social expectations.”
So it’s hard to write a post about how the previously Asian trend for limb-lengthening surgery is catching on in America.
… height — a major source of anxiety for men — seems unsolvable. The struggles for short men in the dating world are well documented. To improve their odds of matching with people, men have taken to lying about their height on dating apps. This happens so frequently that the dating app Tinder once rolled out an April Fools joke about verifying height, and men got very upset. Just last week, a TikTok went viral for devising a plan to “fact-check” guys who say they’re 6 feet tall. Height is even an advantage in the workplace, where taller men are more likely to end up CEOs and shorter men are less likely to get access to career opportunities. Short men are mocked on social media. Some research suggests shorter men are more likely to be depressed.
It’s a long, detailed story. Abdelmahmoud covers a particular patient (whom he calls “Scott”) a particular social-media-star doctor (Dr. Shahab Mahboubian), some interesting pushback from people who are trying to change the underlying problem …
In summer 2018, comedian Jaboukie Young-White coined the phrase “short king” as a way to push back against the stigma of being short. The comedian tweeted that “short gave you donald glover. short gave you tom holland.” Now the term has taken full cultural hold as a way of expressing appreciation for shorter men. It’s a “short king spring,” TikTok declared.
The BuzzFeed article does make some comparisons to boob jobs and tummy tucks. But what makes it formulaic is that it doesn’t address the power behind the social forces that make so many people have Scott’s experiences with whatever it is that makes their body different. It mentions the financial costs (Scott has a, well, innovative way of funding his surgery) and the physical costs of successful surgery, but it doesn’t talk about the failed surgeries or the potential complications.
Like all these articles, it’s written when Scott’s surgery is fairly new. The pain is past and it’s working beautifully. He’s much happier. We’ll never see a two-year follow-up, in which it might still be great, or he might have discovered that his extra three inches of height haven’t given him something he was striving for, or he might have fallen down a medical well and be suffering.
Most of all, these articles almost never talk about the real connections, the fact that all of these standards stem from the same place. They may question the vilification of short men, but they don’t address our social willingness to accept a single overarching standard of beauty, attractiveness, femininity, masculinity, our cultural comfort with believing that people who look a certain way are better employees, better spouses, and better friends. In this increasingly diverse world, with so many images to choose from, yet we are addicted to believing that there’s a right way to look, and that for millions of people the changes are worth time, money, and risk.
I can’t fault Scott for making his decision, any more than I can tell someone they shouldn’t get breast reconstruction after cancer surgery, or anything else “cosmetic.” I’m just always aware that any cosmetic surgery is only desirable because of arbitrary rules and expectations — and someone is always getting rich from keeping those standards in the forefront of our hearts and minds.
I’m with Jaboukie Young-White, from the same tweet that Abdelmahmoud quoted above, “short kings are the enemy of body negativity, and i’ll be forever proud to defend them.” We enemies of body negativity are in a long hard fight, not stopping any time soon.
Thanks to Lynn Kendall for the pointer.
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