I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the dating app bio, “6’1” ’cause I guess that matters.”
And you know what? It kind of does matter. But it’s not our fault.
Society’s beauty standards are centered on women being slim and small. We grow up watching it, our eyes darting back and forth between the magazines and the number on the scale below us. The princess dresses I’d wear for Halloween never fit me like they did in the Disney movies. The TV and movie characters we were told to idolize were always thin and beautiful, as if you couldn’t have one without the other. Society taught me and every other girl from an early age that we should not take up too much space.
I remember a few years ago I was coming back from going out with a guy who was around my height.
“I don’t know,” I told my friend. “I just felt fat the whole time. Do you think I’m fat?”
She reassured me that I wasn’t. That I was beautiful. But that reassurance, even if it was what I’d asked for, only reaffirmed my internalized notion that if I was fat, I couldn’t possibly be beautiful.
It’s not about their height or size; it’s about ours. It’s about feeling claustrophobic in our own bodies. I remember being on that date, seeing myself how I thought he must’ve seen me. Huge. Ugly. It wasn’t conscious. I didn’t blame his size. I blamed myself.
Later on, I shamefully admit, I did blame him. Any man, really, for being shorter than me, smaller than me, for making me feel massive. For forcing me to take up space.
I chalked it up to “preference” and never analyzed the issue again. Instead, I used my analytical skills to scrutinize the camera angles and background objects of Tinder photos with my friends to decide if the man reached my height requirement.
But I get why men use creative camera angles. They grew up with the same standards as women, just flipped and even more taboo to talk about. I mean, macho actors such as Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt wear platform shoes to appear taller than female actresses. The Disney princes’ unbuttoned shirts reveal eight-packs and full chests. That couldn’t have been easy to replicate when Halloween came around. They’re portrayed to be tall. Strong. Huge.
And those standards are only enforced by apps such as Bumble or Hinge that have users put their height just under their first photo. It’s the first stat that’s displayed, coming even before what the person’s looking for in the app. They don’t ask about your criminal record, but they ask about your height.
There were times when I would read the height before even looking at the photo, my logic being, “Well, I’m gonna swipe left if they’re under 5’9” anyway. It’s just more efficient.” My friends laughed. I did, too.
It wasn’t until I was out with a guy once and he gave me one of the worst compliments I’ve ever received that I thought about it any differently.
“You know,” he began, “your tits are bigger than they looked in your pictures.”
I just sort of looked at him, my eyebrows raised. Then I nodded. “Thanks.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
I thought he’d just drop it and move on, but instead, he went on to say, “Really, they should have girls put their cup size. Then girls with big tits who have bad pictures could get a lot more matches.”
There wasn’t a second date. But it still got me thinking. At first, they were just defensive thoughts. It’s totally different. That guy was such an idiot. But I couldn’t actually think of how it was different. How my “preference” was any more valid than theirs.
I imagined myself filling out that little questionnaire they ask you and seeing a space to put your cup size. I could already feel myself filling with the need to make up for my now spotlighted insecurity with camera angles. The inclination to lie because not filling it out at all would be even worse. All the anger and exasperation that goes into writing something like, “C cup ’cause I guess that matters.”
I’d really like to say that that moment of clarity immediately wiped away my ingrained partiality toward taller men. It didn’t. But I stopped reading the heights first. It’s the bare minimum, I’m aware, but after some practice, I stopped noticing them. Not altogether, and not all the time, but more and more.
It’s not an accident that the beauty standards I’ve outlined exist. Society’s need for men to be physically bigger than their romantic female partners is just a reflection of its need for men to be bigger than us in general.
Men don’t need height to make me feel small. I feel it when they talk over me, explain back to me the thing I was just talking about, look through me to the guy sitting behind me when discussing a group project. It shrinks me until the distance between us is so great my voice can’t even be heard.
Beauty standards want me to replicate that feeling. It’s not sexy. It’s just gross, when you think about it.
Men have made me feel small all my life. I really don’t need them to do it in the bedroom.
Helen D’Orazio writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]