Tag Archives: short men

Taller Is Better, Right? Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Debbie says:

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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What (Some) Men Will Do for Stature


Laurie and Debbie say:

It’s almost 20 years since Susan Faludi published Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, a book that talks about how the cosmetics and beauty industries specifically and consciously targeted men as an untapped market, and the effect that had on our images and expectations of masculinity.

It’s almost 15 years since we (with Richard F. Dutcher) published Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes, a book that delves deep into the complexities and variations of masculinity. We’ve known for a long time about how men’s facelifts have gone from a secret shame to a common occurrence, how some men artificially gray their hair to look more distinguished, and similar male options. Everyone who watches TV knows about men’s fragrances, and the enormous effort the advertisers put in to threading the needle between “masculine” and “smelling good.”

Now some men are making a much more intense choice. Having your limbs lengthened, as C. Brian Smith discusses in Mel Magazine, is both extremely expensive and extremely painful. (Warning: This article is extremely graphic both in medical detail and in descriptions of pain levels.)

Men have been lining up to shatter their femurs in hopes of adding an average of three inches to their height ever since [the procedure was made both somewhat less expensive and somewhat less painful in 2012]  — at a cost of $15,000 (in Syria) to more than $300,000 (in Florida). If they opt to expand both the femur and the tibia, that typically doubles their growth (and, of course, the price). To ensure they’re psychologically stable for the procedure, [limb-lengthening surgeon S. Robert] Rozbruch requires that his stature-lengthening patients be evaluated by a psychologist, Dr. Ellen Katz Westrich, who explains height dysphoria is a fundamental dissatisfaction with one’s stature. “Often patients are generally happy in their lives,” she explains. “They have good friendships and healthy relationships. But there’s a nagging sense that something about their stature is holding them back.”

Calling this “height dysphoria” evokes the concept of gender dysphoria: being born in a body that doesn’t fit your view of gender. What Rozbruch and his psychologist elide here is that, while people assigned both male and female at birth experience gender dysphoria, no one is electing to have surgery to be made shorter … just as, with the exception of people in some degree of medical trouble, no one is dieting to gain weight. The social pressure only goes in one direction. The “nagging sense” is fueled by everything they see, hear, and learn about how men are “supposed” to be.  And all of this happens even though we know that shorter men live longer, and really tall men very often have dramatically shortened lives.

A man is considered short in this culture if he is less than 5’8″ (or about 173 centimeters). Many shorter men have had dramatically successful lives. Just to name two, Prince was 5’2″, and Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor among other accomplishments, is 4’11”.  Exceptions, however, don’t generally help with that “nagging sense” because cultural pressure isn’t just a myth. Pervasive cultural beliefs about men’s heights affect men’s lives.

One 2004 study, for instance, found that over the course of a 30-year career, a man 6-feet tall was predicted to earn nearly $166,000 more than a 5-foot-5 male colleague. And a survey of Fortune 500 CEOs found CEO’s average height to be exactly 6 feet, more than two inches taller than the average American male, with one in three being over 6-foot-2. All told, 90 percent of CEOs are above average height. “This is one of the only psychological problems that can be remedied with surgery,” [limb-lengthening surgeon Shabab] Mahboubian says. “People look up to people that are taller — literally.”

Men look up to men who are taller, Dr. Mahboubian. Tall and short women face their own challenges, which vary by class, culture, and ethnicity. Limb lengthening surgery for men who can afford it, however, is becoming global. Smith’s article identifies the practice in Syria, Korea, India, and more. Few U.S. and European doctors will perform the procedure, which means some men are traveling thousands of miles to spend tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars and undergo extreme pain.

People make their own choices. Doctors and clinics also make their own choices about what procedures they will perform and how they will sell their services. Surgeries like these, if successful, may lead to the outcomes the patients are looking for. Nonetheless, we are always angry when encouraging people to go to extreme lengths to change their bodies is framed as a simple kindness, when we know it reinforces damaging cultural stereotypes.

Thanks to Lynn Kendall for the pointer. Follow Debbie @spicejardebbie on Twitter.