David had a traumatic time at school, but according to some, he’s never been “bullied”.
“It’s not really bullying when it’s supposed to be a joke, right?” says the 38-year-old wryly.
David*, is 158 centimetres in height. He has been teased and abused for being shorter than his peers.
It began in school, when puberty did not give David the growth spurt it seemingly granted everyone else. And although the unkind words and actions from others hurt, and scarred him, no adult would ever accept he was being bullied for his height.
The attitude was that his classmates were simply “having a joke”.
“It wasn’t a joke to me when I was picked last in sports and everyone would laugh. When they would lower the limbo pole for me because I had an ‘unfair advantage’,” David remembers.
“One kid loved to rock up on the first day of each senior school year and pretend he was surprised the school didn’t keep putting me back into prep school. He thought it was hilarious, every year.”
These days, the bullies’ behaviour would probably be less tolerated in schools, but David claims that as an adult, his experience as a shorter man has continued to be challenging.
“Even though we’re apparently supposed to be a much more tolerant society now, it seems like making fun of people under average height is still OK.
“I get pats on the head from men and women, and my mates will even have a giggle when I ask that we sit down at the pub so we’re all a more even height and I don’t feel like I’m looking at the sky to talk to everyone.
“I don’t always feel respected, or even an equal, in group settings.”
Shorter men can be at economic disadvantage
Findings published in the British Medical Journal in 2016 showed that taller men have more socioeconomic success than their shorter peers, supporting the perception that being shorter is a disadvantage for men.
Height is mostly determined by genetics and ethnicity plays a role.
But an individual’s circumstances can also be a determinant, meaning that nutrition and access to healthcare can influence growth.
The National Library of Medicine says: “Studies on immigrant families have shown that moving to a country with better access to nutritious food, healthcare, and employment opportunities can have a substantial influence on the height of the next generation.”
The body image pressure on gay men
Unrealistic body ideals are difficult for everyone, but they’re particularly prevalent in the gay community. Here are some ways to deal with it.
Height plays into body image issues
Zac Seidler, a clinical psychologist in Sydney, says the issue runs deep for many shorter men over the course of their lifetimes.
“While we’ve made a lot of progress in terms of attitudes to women’s bodies, that’s not the situation with men’s,” Mr Seidler explains.
Mr Seidler believes the LGBTQI community can be credited for opening the dialogue on diverse male bodies, but the conversation in wider society has a long way to go.
“The bias against shorter men is damaging because it instils a feeling of hopelessness in the individual. A feeling of powerlessness, because nothing can be done about height.
“Then the concept of ‘Bigorexia’ comes into play. Bigorexia is the belief that as a man, you need to be big in some way. If it can’t be in height, then it could be increasing muscles – like The Rock.
“It’s a way for men to control their bodies, and boost their status when they feel it’s been taken from them.
“It becomes about increasing ‘masculine capital’.”
That’s something David can relate to.
“Women on dating apps often have a height stipulation, and so I’ve felt like I’ve had to stock up my body.”
What has helped you appreciate your body? We’d love to know how. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
‘My career growth has been affected’
David explains that his height impacts every aspect of his life.
From being uncomfortable talking to his colleagues and clients when standing up, to being teased by his mates for driving an SUV (“What are you compensating for, mate?”), to struggling to start conversations with women (because he’s not taller than them, he says he feels “dismissed”, instantly).
It’s why David will only put a head shot up on his online dating profiles, and will leave the height blank.
“I definitely also think my career growth has been affected because I’m not seen as powerful,” he says.
How body image insecurities affect men
Broad shoulders, muscular physique, large penis: appearance ‘ideals’ for men can create vicious cycles of insecurity.
How David found peace with his body
David reflects that until recently, the negativity towards his height has been an invisible pain with no solution – or so he thought.
It is only in the last few years that self-acceptance came to him with age; the wisdom of being at peace with his body.
“I have control of how I respond and how my height makes me feel. Once I realised that, only a couple of years ago, I felt proud of my body for the first time in my life.
“It makes me sad that it took that long. You should be proud of your body no matter what. My parents always loved me for me, and built me up in other ways, and I should have listened to them more!”
David adds the diversity of voices on social media has helped, and urges anyone struggling to accept their body to look at accounts that focus on different bodies.
Mr Seidler has a final tip for shorter men feeling any insufficiency.
“Look to the men who are taller within themselves; those who go against societal norms. Use their resilience to show you how to be comfortable with your body.”
*Name protected for privacy reasons.
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