Sunday, September 03, 2006

Short People

I'm not easily startled by news announcers; I've seen and heard too much on network news, so very little surprises me these days. But, the other day, I heard something that made me put my coffee cup down and sit up really straight.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I reconsidered what the announcer said: "Some doctors are now treating shortness as a disease." Pardon me? Shortness as a disease? Now, I'm not consulting a dictionary here, but I thought a "disease" was something that was debilitating, life-threatening, and/or requiring medication. Somehow, in my mind, "shortness" doesn't quite measure up (ha ha).

My incredulity might be better understood if you knew that I'm 4'9" tall (yes, "tall"). While "shortness" has served me well as a topic of conversation with strangers in elevators, it hasn't seemed to affect my view of who I am. For some reason, I don't equate my height with my abilities or my worthiness. Call me crazy, but I think a person is more that a measurement chalked up on a doorframe (just so you know, my parents never did that to their 10 children). Where my height is a disadvantage--reaching high shelves or cabinets--society has provided a solution (it's called a "ladder"). In my own home and office, I don't put things where I can't reach them. I'm a sensible person.

When I was about a year old, so the story goes, my mother became concerned because I wasn't gaining weight and I wasn't growing. She schlepped me to a doctor who ran every test he could. At the follow-up conference, the doctor asked her, "How tall are you?" My mother replied, "Five feet." The doctor smiled and said, "There's the answer to your question. She inherited your genes."

Perhaps I overcompensated by studying hard and working on my smartness factor, but, I have to honestly say, that I don't think about my height unless someone calls it to my attention. I don't go around wishing that people would treat me like a "tall" person; it doesn't occur to me that it's a "problem" for me--other people seem to have problems with it, though.

And I think that's why parents want doctors to treat shortness as a disease--it's not the kids who usually have trouble with height, it's parents. They don't want their sons to be passed over (sorry) for promotions at work; they want their sons to play basketball and get those scholarships.

For women, maybe, shortness works favorably (or not). Some people think we need to be protected; some men think that, because we're petite, we're pushovers (in more ways than one); some women might think we won't stand up (sorry, again) for ourselves. People have weird ideas about other people--if we're not judged by our height, we'll be judged by our gender or color or religion or anything that anyone finds objectionable/different/strange.

But my concern goes beyond this whole judgment thing. If we start engineering height, what's next? Eye color? Intelligence? Physical beauty? Does the name "Dr. Mengele" come to mind? We've already begun in vitro procedures to eliminate or reduce a fetus's pre-birth conditions, such as heart problems. I don't think this is wrong, especially if it increases a fetus's chances for a birth/childhood free from constant medical treatment. But these other qualities are aesthetic, not medical. Having a child who's chance for making the NBA increases doesn't seem as crucial as having a healthy child.

Yeah, I've heard about those surveys that say that short men are frequently passed over for promotions, that people perceive them as weaker, etc. I say it's all in their heads. The best treatment for "height deficiency" is a healthy self-esteem, especially in parents.

As for me, I'm often tempted to turn the tables on those strangers who ask me about my height. I'd like to ask them "How much do you weigh?" or "What's your IQ?" and see how they like such a personal and/or irrelevant question. But, you know, most of them wouldn't get it. I'm not out to change the world; I'm just working on myself.

1 comment:

saltnmw said...

Shortness a disease! I can't picture the news announcer telling this with a straight face (take number XXX?) - it gave me a big laugh.

Just how short is short (dwarfs?)?

You're right to worry about genetic control - I am. How long before "they" find out I'm an aberration (actually, I'm from another planet) and opt for an overdue abortion?

Seriously, something should be done about short people. I've known some very handsome men I wouldn't go out with because I was too tall for them. Yikes! I have a disease - I'm too tall!