My doctor promised I’d get taller when I turned 11. It never happened. I was a competitive gymnast, so it took a while for puberty to hit. Once I retired from gymnastics, I got hips, and some curves, that were generally pleasing to a 14-year-old who was regularly mistaken as a sixth grader. But I didn’t get any taller. I held out hope that I would shoot up, even after my 16th birthday, but by the time I graduated high school (wearing four inch wedges to make it look less like I was drowning in my cap and gown), it was clear that I wasn’t getting any taller.
When people ask how tall I am, I say I’m 5’3.” This ruse has been going on for a while — it actually identifies me as 5’3″ on my license. In reality, I barely clear 5’2″ and when people question the height I give them, I tell them that I prefer to round up, and try to pass the line off with a cute, toothy smile that probably makes me look even more like I’m 12.
I have always been the called a “little girl.” In fifth grade, I was somewhere in the four foot range, and still had chubby cheeks that most kids had gotten rid of five years before me. Some bro-in-training told me to go back to pre-school, and I cried and refused to go back to class because I didn’t want to have to sit next to him. The curse of being the short girl — at least for me — was that it just added to the fact that I looked younger than everyone else. And it doesn’t help that I have a baby face, complete with wide eyes and teeth that are so small it looks like I never even got molars, let alone wisdom teeth.
When I was in college, even as a senior, people assumed I was a freshman. When I worked in an office, in a typical entry-level role, people naturally assumed I was the intern, because it seemed unlikely that that I could be old enough to be a full-time employee with benefits. When people see my brother and I together, they think we have a 10 year age difference, even though he is only two years my senior. And when I go to parties with friends, I sometimes feel invisible because I swear people’s eyes move right over me — hopping from one 5’6″ party attendee to the next.
Of course, I understand that other people think they’re being kind, but it comes off like they’re rolling something I’m self-conscious about into the compliment, which no one enjoys. When I see pictures of myself, I’m incredibly aware of the fact that without heels, and makeup, I’m short, and have a baby face.
I grew up fully aware of the fact that I was never going to be the tall, gorgeous girl that ruled every high school and college campus. I’ve always been too short, and in fact spent most of my high school and college years learning to subtly stand on tiptoes to be the same height as everyone else.
Aside from trying not to stand on the end in pictures to ensure that I don’t enhance the short girl effect, I have generally learned to accept the fact that I look young. I might never be a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love the way I look, even in flats and no makeup. Even though I’ve gotten over a lot of my short, young-looking woes, it still makes me feel out of place sometimes, or just annoys me. I hate when people who actually look their age tell me how lucky I am that I look young.
“You’re going to be so thankful when you look 30, but are actually 45.”
And that’s awesome. Really, it is. I’m excited for my 45-year-old self. But I’ve still got a lot of years being dubbed “adorable” and sitting in the middle seat before that happens.