In most Asian countries where short is the majority, you wouldn’t care or even remember if you were short. But go to a European country where practically everybody -and even their dog- is tall, and suddenly you’ve never been so short in your life.
The average height in Belgium and other parts of Europe is 177 to 178 centimeters for men and 165 to 168 centimeters for women. Compare that to a country like the Philippines where the average male height is 162 centimeters and the average female height is 150 centimeters, and you can imagine how a Filipino like me easily turns into a hobbit among most Europeans.
Physical environments can also emphasize the fact that you’re short. Places and structures are designed according to the features of the people who regularly inhabit and use them. For example, some grocery stores in Brussels have shelves that are higher than a regular store shelf in my country. If you’re renting an apartment that has elevated closets, that tells you that the apartment was designed for tall people. The height of a public bench can indicate that it was made for people with long legs.
But fear not if you’re a shorty. It turns out, living in the land of the tall can bring joyful benefits to the small.
1. You develop strong toes, legs, and arms.
In the talldom, many fixtures are placed at high levels because of course, tall people can reach them. Short people can’t. Not without standing on their toes and raising their arms to kingdom come. You’ll be surprised at how fit and muscular your toes can get when you constantly have to stand on them to get by. Give it a year or two and your toes may be evolved enough to perform house chores on their own.
Sometimes, standing on your toes won’t be enough. You have to jump as high as you can which is good for your legs. Toe support or jumping is normally accompanied by stretching one or both arms upwards to get hold of a lofty target. So aside from your toes and legs, your arms also get some unintended aerobic action. Now who needs to go to the gym.
2. You acquire a good sense of balance.
The first few times you stand on your toes may feel a bit wobbly. But once you finally make peace with the fact that toe work will have to be a way of life, you begin to learn the techniques of good balance. You become an expert in hitting just the right distance between your feet to achieve a steady toe stand. You also master the delicate art of resting your body weight on your toes. If you’re a perfectionist, you might even develop a ballerina style pointe technique. Bravo.
3. You become creative and resourceful.
Out of desperation to reach for things, you suddenly discover that almost anything can be turned into a step stool. A chair is no longer just something to sit on but something for you to stand on. This creativity extends to other things in your house. Garbage cans, heavy boxes, tables, chests, ledges, cabinets, refrigerators. You see them all in a way you’ve never seen them before – as potential ladders and stepping stones toward your physical goals.
4. You become a genius at real-life Tetris.
Exploring your ingenuity in step stool improvisation is fun, but having to climb on things all the time is not. So instead of trying for those high shelves and cabinets, you start exploring how you can fit all your stuff into low storage spaces.
You may be amazed at how artistic you can be at space maximization when you badly want to avoid the hassle of mounting a step stool. It’s like a game of Tetris and the challenge is how to squeeze everything in until every inch of space is occupied. Who knows maybe the next time you play Tetris, you’ll be an instant champion.
5. You’re always in the front row during picture takings.
There is no other way and everybody knows why.
6. You develop good posture naturally.
Back straight, chin up. This happens when your view is often blocked by the backs of tall people. To see what’s ahead, you have to extend your back and neck and lift your head as high as humanly possible. Now if you do this on a regular basis, the bones in your back, neck, and chin will click into permanent position. Before you know it, you’ve mastered the elements of good posture and you start walking around looking all confident. All because of a survival mechanism.
7. You won’t run out of human shade in the summer.
When the summer sun gets too strong, you can easily shade yourself from the heat. In a place where there is never a shortage of tall people, you can just stand behind one of them to protect yourself from the sun. Of course you have to be very subtle about it so you won’t look like a creep. More importantly, you don’t want to get busted for using people as improvised umbrellas.
8. You can shop for clothes in the children’s section.
European size clothes are generally designed for people with extensive bodies and body parts. For short people, that means sleeves that are too long for their arms, pants that are too long for their legs, skirts that are too long for their knees, and blouses or shirts that are too long for their bodies. If you’re a short woman, for example, a European size tunic may look like a dress on you. And a European size dress or skirt may be your equivalent of a long gown. A midriff jacket is your regular jacket, and a regular jacket could be your trench coat. Capri pants will be your regular length trousers. And if all else fails, there’s always the kid’s wear department.
9. You get to swing your legs while sitting on a bench.
Isn’t it fun to sit on a bench and swing your legs like you’re four years old all over again? Because you have short legs, you get a chance to relive that childhood feeling each time you sit on a bench or chair that is obviously intended for long-legged people. If you get tired of leg-swinging, you just have to sit at the very edge of the bench to rest your feet on the ground. See, you have a choice that tall people don’t. Wonderful.
10. You can avoid awkward eye contact with strangers.
You know that awkward feeling you get when you accidentally lock eyes with a stranger while walking down the street? You won’t have to endure that kind of discomfort when most people you encounter are way higher than you. The most you can have eye contact with are shoulders and necks.
Most of all, you get to own the line, “I’m not short, I’m fun-sized.” How could it not be fun when you’re compelled to be clever and imaginative in order to adapt to your environment. Those survival strategies are contributing to your evolution as a human being. Even your sense of humor gets an upgrade as you learn to look at the hilarious side of things. After all, what’s not to giggle about when you can so easily see up people’s noses.
But there are extreme cases when humor and adaptability just aren’t enough. During a TED talk, Irish blogger and activist Sinéad Burke spoke of the challenges of living in a world that is evidently not designed for little people like her. Burke was born with Achondroplasia, a common type of dwarfism. Standing at 105.5 centimeters, she often has to rely on the assistance of kind strangers to survive. The experiences of short people like me are nothing compared to her plight. But she makes an argument on design perspectives that is relevant to people of all types of height. “The way physical environments are designed impacts upon all people’s lives” she says. Design is more than just a tool to create function and beauty. It can also be a way in which we can feel included in the world.