A tall woman on being tall8/31/2016
A woman is running along a narrow pole in Strasbourg, France. That much is clear. But straight up in the air? She certainly is striding strong, arms outstretched, thumbs up, pushing off at the toes, head pulling forward. A sculpture. Frozen. But with just a few more steps, she will have to answer the ultimate question: Does she run right up into the heavens, fists high, shouting defiance, or does she fall back to the earth with a plop?
The historic nomination of a woman for president by a major political party marks a sea change, whatever eventually happens. On the night she clinched the nomination, Hillary Clinton tweeted:
“To every little girl who dreams big: Yes, you can be anything you want — even president. Tonight is for you.”
When Clinton said “dream big,” I’m fairly certain she didn’t mean “dream tall,” but perhaps she should have. A recent study came out on the comparative tallness of women in eLife that caught the attention of the world-wide media. Everyone loves a contest, and so the media played up which countries were the tallest and which countries were second rate. I’m afraid the United States was in the latter category with its 42nd place, a little shy of the podium for sure.
Although who-ranks-where on the tallness chart is certainly a fun comparison, that is not why it was important to the authors of the eLife study.
“People from different countries grow to different heights. This may be partly due to genetics, but most differences in height between countries have other causes. For example, children and adolescents who are malnourished, or who suffer from serious diseases, will generally be shorter as adults.”
Yikes, what does this say about the U.S. and the health of our country with its 42nd ranking?
The study goes on: “This is important because taller people generally live longer, are less likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke, and taller women and their children are less likely to have complications during and after birth. Taller people may also earn more and be more successful at school. However, they are also more likely to develop some cancers.”
The article then has charts and diagrams and statistics and all sorts of good stuff concerning its findings. The bottom line — tallness is a good thing, and we need more of it.
So, I went into the wild to track down a tall woman to see how that was working for her.
“How do you feel about being tall?” I ask a tall woman.
The tall woman looks at me quizzically, gives a small moan, and rolls her eyes.
“People will just stop me and say, ‘How tall are you?’ That happens all the time. It makes me feel annoyed. Do I ask you how much you weigh? Isn’t that a personal question? You want to forget your differences from others for a while. You just want to be plain, normal.”
OK, I get it. Boundaries.
“So… how tall are you?” I ask Ivana Radosavljevic again.
Radosavljevic, a friend of my wife’s, frowns through her long brown hair, stylish dark glasses, and high Slavic cheekbones. With sparkling eyes and coltish movements, you might forget that this multilingual young woman — with a law degree, a Master’s degree, and very nearly her Ph.D., and a former professional volleyball player — is a highly accomplished lawyer back in her home country.
And she has little patience for fools.
By the way, Radosavljevic, who I estimate is around 6’5”, is Serbian — No. 5 on the chart of the countries with the tallest women. Next to her is Carine Placzek, another great up-and-coming human-rights lawyer, who is a French woman by way of Poland. No. 26 and No. 33 on the chart.
Radosavljevic wants to make a point about my question —
“Look at that girl over there, she’s just staring at me.”
Yup, that girl is staring at her, along with other staring folks as they walk past us on this street in Strasbourg, where Radosavljevic is visiting to do legal research.
“I don’t want attention. Or people asking questions.” She pauses. “There is nothing I can do about being tall.”
Radosavljevic almost shouts this last sentence to the staring people.
“I should have a compilation of stupid questions people ask me. Like, ‘Are you tall because of volleyball?’ Well, ‘Are you stupid because your mom dropped you when you were a kid?’ You can’t imagine that anyone would think that the reason for my height is volleyball, but they do.”
So I ask another stupid question, “What about dating?”
“Really? … OK, I guess I would prefer a tall guy. Because it is normal. That is what annoys me so much. It is not socially acceptable to have taller woman dating shorter guy. So annoying and frustrating. That is held up as the normal standard. It is really sad. Great potential partners are out of consideration.”
This stylishly dressed woman then moves from dating to the difficulty of finding clothes and shoes and everything else that just doesn’t fit a person of her height.
Then she pauses, thoughtful and careful with her words.
“People now aren’t realizing the issues tall people are facing. And it’s all sorts of issues, from the very banal, like not every table is fit for us because you cannot put your legs under it, and not every shower is fit for us. For me, it is small problems to the larger problem of it is not socially acceptable to date a short guy who is fantastic for me maybe.”
Radosavljevic takes a breath.
“But I can’t complain. Look at the Syrian people, and look what they’re going through. And look, every five seconds in this world one child dies of hunger. What can I say? When you put this in that perspective, I would be really ungrateful if I’m saying, ‘oh poor me, look at me, I cannot date just anyone.’ ”
Then Radosavljevic stops talking. Her joy bubbles back to the surface. Life is her oyster.
“This interview about tall is too limiting.”
She fixes me with her gaze.
“You should be talking about other aspects of my fantasticness,” she says with a proud smile.
And with that, Radosavljevic jumps off the narrow Strasbourg pole, pointed to the heavens, self-confident, assured, certainly presidential material.
So, there you have it.
A tall woman on being tall.■
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is once again assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at www.joesneighborhood.com.