Tuesday, 21 May 2019

I am the 1.8%

Dammit Karen: I am the 1.8% (a short essay) (ba-dum)
Vlad Tchompalov 

I’m small.

Petite. 

Wee.

I’m ridiculously short, for a non-little person — which I really hope isn’t offensive, because I don’t mean it that way.

I’m not one of those people that started out tall (or even average) and just stopped growing, so everyone else caught up and passed me. No, I was always small. The smallest in the class, the front of every line and dead-centre in every class photo.

I used to joke that I was too busy as a kid doing other things, playing outside, climbing trees; I didn’t put the focus on growing that I probably should have.

Of the x number of women I’ve ever seen in real life, I have noticed being taller than exactly four.
My parents are normal-sized. My sister is tall; she’s 5'7", somehow, and it’s just not fair that I only made it to 4'10". I often forget that I’m small, or how small I really am, till I catch sight of my reflection in a window, beside anyone — anyone — else. I’m the person that makes other short people feel good about themselves. I’m the one they pat on the head.

My kids are average-sized as well — I have no idea how. My husband is just above average at about 6 feet tall (with hair spiked), and somehow, the combination of us created two 50th-percentile kids and one 75th-percentile, all of whom are well on their way to be taller than me by the time they turn 11.

What is "average", anyway?

I don’t know if non-parents even care about percentiles. I learned about them at the doctor’s office with my newborn. For me, it was a source of reassurance of normalcy, that I was feeding these tiny little beings enough and that they were, in fact, ok. What I learned was that everything can be quantified. All those BMI charts. Head girth. A baby at every step of its development.  

I used to joke that it wasn’t fair that I had 50th-percentile babies with 75th-percentile heads, because, if anything, I was a 5th-percentile person.

But there is something to be said for actually looking things up and finding out the truth. And that something, increasingly for me, is “don’t do it.”

I am in the 1.8th percentile for Canadian adult females.

I’m the person that makes other short people feel good about themselves. I’m the one they pat on the head.

This is something that I really was happier not knowing. It sounds ludicrous, and just can’t be right. If it were really true, it means that, if I’d met 100 women in my lifetime, then I would have been taller than one or two of them.

I’m pretty bad at estimating how many I’ve seen and/or met…definitely more than 400 or 500 women in my life, and probably many more…thousands, perhaps, even if I limit it to Canadian cities. But, of the x number of women I’ve ever seen in real life, I have noticed being taller than exactly four. One was Kathleen Jinkerson, whom I saw across a gym floor, then skipped over, ascertained that she was indeed 4'9", patted her on the head, apologized, and skipped away. Another was a girl on a rival cheerleading team. And the other two were little people.

Canadian stats show that although we are getting taller as a “people” (as a country of immigrants, I’m not quite sure how to define ourselves as a demographic, unless they also measured niceness), we’re not getting taller as fast as many other countries in the world. Peaked too soon, as they say, which again, I did not.

Despite this national slowdown, until it actually reverses, I expect that I'll still have a hard time finding clothes that fit. For a short time in my twenties, Le Chateau (which at that time was my go-to store for club wear) came out with a Junior line, and it was as if the whole world was finally at my feet. Sparkly, low-rise jeans that I don’t have to hem? Tummy tops with sleeves that fit me? Sign me up! When I (only recently) emptied my closet of my clubbing clothes, I knew that I was making some slutty tween somewhere very happy.

By the time I get to the shoe store, the only pair of size 5’s (size 2.5 in the UK) has already been bought (probably by Kathleen Jinkerson). I used to go in with a specific style in mind, “a black, strappy shoe with a 3-inch heel” or “a cross-trainer that is good for agility work, preferably in teal”. I have downgraded my expectations to: “anything — anything — in a size 5.” Yes, I could buy children’s shoes, but they’re not made with the same quality of materials and wear out faster, AND they don’t make strappy sandals with 3-inch heels for kids.

In short

My friend Dave used to hide my shoes inside of his, at every house party. Every single time. An ex-boyfriend used to sit down beside me, then pick me up and move me closer to him. People still sometimes make short jokes, then apologize profusely. Some of them ask me if I’m sensitive about my height (or lack thereof — hey-o!). Let me be clear: there is no short joke out there that I have not heard, and I challenge anyone to come up with something original.

If I was still sensitive about my height after 40 years, then … well, I don’t know what I’d do.

I still often think that it’s not fair (especially when reaching for things in high cupboards or shopping for jeans) but then I think, without being teeny, I wouldn’t have been the top of the pyramid in university. I wouldn’t have been as good at hide-and-seek, or as strong (biomechanically efficient, yo!) in the weight room. I probably wouldn’t have worked so hard (some say over-compensated) to be as strong, or as fast, or as powerful, or to focus so much on good posture to look tall(er).

After being short for my whole life, I honestly don’t mind being little, being patted on the head and giving those less-confident short people someone to feel better than.

It’s the least I can do, after the way I treated Kathleen Jinkerson.


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