As contrary as the notion is to everything we know about the universe, there was a point in my life where I understood what it was like to be a Justin -- be it of the Timberlake or Bieber variety.
It happened whenever I stepped out onto the school playground at recess. As soon as I appeared the older girls would shriek with delight and chase me until I couldn’t run anymore. When they finally caught me I would then receive a big hug and sometimes a kiss on the cheek before finally being set free to play or be chased by another groupie.
I was 5 and I was fucking adorable. The tiniest kid -- boy or girl -- at Mee-Yah-Noh Elementary, I looked more like a doll than a typical kindergartener.
Even at that age I appreciated how my size caused people to treat me differently. What I didn’t know was that the positive attention I enjoyed that year would quickly vanish and be replaced by something far less desirable.
Turns out, I peaked before Grade One and only had the whole rest of my life to live.
The truth is, from a genetic standpoint I never had a snowball’s chance. My mom is 4’11 ½” and my dad is 5’4”. The odds of my ever winning the 6’4” lottery were only slightly less than my becoming the first person to kill a dinosaur with a slingshot on Saturn’s third moon.
I spent my young life being told that our pediatrician estimated I’d end up making it to 5’6”, maybe 5’8” if I was lucky, which was still short, but not comically so. But it turned out that quack was way off and I stopped gaining inches not long after my 13th birthday. It was Grade Eight and I had permanently reached my lifelong summit of 5’2” -- just three inches above the official medical classification of dwarf or little person.
In the 23 years that have passed since then, I’ve come to two major conclusions about being a short man in North American society and they are thus: It sucks and no one wants to hear you complain about it.
Because of this I tend to mostly shut up about the subject. It’s hard enough trying to explain to people the realities of height discrimination when you have to also convince them it’s an actual thing in the first place.
“Oh, c’mon!” I’ve heard many, many times. “People don’t treat you any differently because you’re short.”
Every person who has ever said this to me has been at least 5’11”. But I’ve lived the life and know the truth and what I have found is that many of the cultural inequities we traditionally assume are gender-based might have just as much to do with size as the seemingly inexcusable lack of a penis.
Before you take this statement as an affront to the harsh realities of patriarchal oppression and expose my testicles to the flames of your self-righteousness, let me point out several ways I have found where being a short dude and being a woman directly correspond.
Take a look at the list of Fortune 500’s top CEOs and what you’ll find is the classic definition of a sausage party. It’s all men, men, and some more men, with just a smattering of token females to help indicate just how many fucking men there really are. Do you know what the average height of all that money-grubbing manmeat is? 6’0”. And that’s the average, which means a significant amount of those guys are actually taller than that.
It’s no secret that women earn significantly less than men do for performing the same jobs. What people don’t know is that height is also a major factor in wage differences. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, "Blink," it is estimated that an inch of height is worth an extra $789 a year in salary. This means that a man who is the same height as the average Fortune 500 CEO will likely earn $7,890 more a year than I would for the same job. Over the course of 40-year career, that amounts to a difference of $315,600.
A common complaint amongst women in the workforce is that instead of being praised for showing the same decisive leadership qualities as their male peers, strong women often end up being classified as “bitches” whose dedication is seen as a form of psychosis rather than that of admirable drive and ambition.
In the case of short men, take the above and replace “bitches” with “little Napoleons”, whose desire to succeed is dismissed by many as evidence of “short man’s syndrome” and a pathetic need to prove themselves more worthy than others.
As a woman, have you ever walked into a room full of men and instantly felt yourself evaluated and dismissed in a matter of seconds?
As a result of this, you have to fight to make yourself heard, which earns you the labels of pushy and annoying. No matter how good your points are, they’re ignored, because it has already been decided you have nothing of worth to contribute amongst such company. Ask most short men if they have ever suffered through this dispiriting experience and chances are you’ll get a buttload of yes.
Actually, this is where the similarities between women and short men sharply diverge. Very few of us smaller guys have to worry about receiving unwanted sexual attention. In fact, getting any sexual attention requires a level of dedication and patience that have earned some folks sainthoods in the past.
The fact is that as a short man you can expect 8 out of 10 women to immediately dismiss you as a potential sexual partner at first sight, before you’ve had time to even so much as shout out a “Hey, pretty lady!” And chances are the remaining 2 out of 10 will only give you a couple of minutes to make your case before similarly blowing you off.
In my experience, women hate to hear this, because it makes their entire gender sound extremely shallow and superficial.
Whenever I’ve talked to female friends about this reality, the following conversation has inevitably occurred:
Me: Women don’t like dating short men.
FF: That’s not true. I bet there are a lot of women out there who love short guys.
Me: Have you ever dated one?
Me: Would you?
FF: (Uncomfortable silence)
According to the mega-bestseller "Freakonomics," short men are statistically less likely to receive any responses from their online dating profiles than any other demographic group. The fact that I’m averaging one a year on my OkCupid profile is actually me breaking the odds through the force of my tremendous personal charisma.
And, of course, there are exceptions to this rule that people love to bring up to dispute this thesis.
“Women love Prince and he’s tiny!” you’ll hear over and over again.
Great, all I have to do is go through life wearing 8-inch stilettos and be a musical genius who also happens to be the greatest live performer of his generation (seriously, I saw him last December). I’ll get right on that.
Most people unconsciously associate height with strength, intelligence and dominance and as a result assume that taller people are better leaders than their shorter counterparts.
Because of this perception, taller children get more chances to develop the social skills that become crucial during such adult activities as entering the workforce and securing booty calls.
Our species has the intellectual capabilities to transcend this hidden prejudice, yet most people still refuse to acknowledge it even exists and choose instead to blame the victim whenever it’s brought up. Things, we are told, would be so much better if we stopped being such whiny crybabies and just got over it.
And, I admit, sometimes I do think I make it sound worse than it is. Would my life have been easier if I shot up an extra six inches during Grades Nine and Ten? Probably, but it’s not like the life I lived has been one of unremitting pain and misery.
When I look back at some of my prouder achievements, I have to admit they might not have had happened if I was just an average schmuck and not an awesome shrimp.