Stories

The awfulness - and awesomeness - of being short

Allan hugs a taller man Image copyright Allan Mott
Image caption Allan hugs a nephew on his graduation day

For men, being tall is considered desirable, but Allan Mott, who is about 7in (18cm) shorter than the average Canadian man, has come to embrace his height - or lack of it.

Have you ever experienced being universally adored by members of the opposite sex?

It happened to me whenever I was in the school playground. As soon as I appeared, the older girls would shriek in delight and chase me until I couldn't run any more. When they would catch me, I would get a big hug and a kiss on the cheek before being set free to play or chased by another fan.

I was five and adorable - the tiniest child at Mee-Yah-Noh elementary school in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I looked more like a doll than a nursery student.

Even at that age, I understood that it was being small that caused people to treat me differently. What I didn't know was that in just a year that treatment would quickly vanish and be replaced with something far less desirable.

I went from being this adored kid, to just being the smallest boy in class. I had been outgoing, but then, due to playground bullying, I would go to help the librarian put books away during playtime.

Image copyright Allan Mott

As it turns out, I peaked in my first year of school, which wasn't ideal. I only had the rest of my entire life to live.

The truth is, genetically I never stood a chance. My mum was 4ft 11.5in (151cm) and my dad is 5ft 4in. Growing up, our paediatrician estimated that I might make it to 5ft 6in, maybe even 5ft 8in if I was lucky, which is not far off the Canadian average male height.

But it turned out that the doctor was way off. I stopped growing soon after my 13th birthday. My lifelong summit turned out to be 5ft 2in (157cm), just four inches above the official medical classification of a dwarf or little person.

In the years that have passed since then, I've come to two major conclusions about being a short man in Western society:

1. It's awful.

2. No-one wants to hear you complain about it.

I tend to keep quiet on the subject. I've heard many people say to me, "Oh, come on! People don't treat you any differently because you're short!" (Every person who has ever said this to me has been at least 5ft 11in.)

But I know the reality of what is means to be a short man in our society. There is as much discrimination about size as there is about gender, race, religion, etc.

Image copyright Allan Mott

Once I looked up the list of chief executives of Fortune 500 companies. It's mostly men, with a smattering of women, and their average height is 6ft - and if that's the average, many are actually taller than that.

It's not a secret that women earn less than men. What people should also know is that height is also a major factor in salary differences.

According to Malcolm Gladwell's book, Blink, it is estimated that an inch of height is worth an extra $789 (£699) a year in salary. This means that a man who is 6ft tall, might earn $7,890 more a year than I would for the same job. Over the course of a 40-year career, that could amount to a difference of $315,600.

When I read that I didn't even feel surprised. In my heart, I always knew it was true.

Short men are taught by society to accept what is thrown at them. When I get a new job and they offer me a particular salary, my instinct is: "That's less than what I was expecting. Oh well, I guess I'll accept that." Maybe a taller guy has a greater sense of entitlement, and says: "Oh no, I need 10K more than that."

Have you ever walked into a room and felt yourself evaluated and dismissed in a matter of seconds?

Short men know that feeling very well. This is where disparaging terms like "Little Napoleon" come in, and the desire to succeed is dismissed as evidence of "short man syndrome". If a 6ft 2in guy stands up for himself, it's described as having self-confidence, but someone my height fighting to be heard is deemed insecure and needy.

In a marketing job I had, I would be talked over in meetings. I'd make a suggestion, which would get ignored, and then a few minutes later, someone else would make the same suggestion. People responded "Oh yes, that's a good idea" to the second person.

I found myself having to fight to make myself heard, but then I came across as pushy and annoying. No matter how good my points were, they were often ignored because it had already been decided that I had nothing worth contributing.

I have watched many of my female colleagues and friends go through the same thing. While they think the discrimination they experience is strictly sexism, I often wonder how much of it is actually the result of sizeism?

Image copyright Allan Mott
Image caption The average height of Canadian women is about 5ft 4.5in (164cm)

Sometimes I ask myself if I'm being insecure. "Maybe those people just treat everyone like that?" I think.

However, there was one meeting that stood out. It was a brainstorming session and we were approaching a project with one line of thinking, and I suggested "Why don't we approach it from the opposite side?" The creative director responded by sharply telling me to be quiet.

This silenced the room, and he realised that it was inappropriate. I really admire a colleague who stood up for me. "It's really hard to feel comfortable continuing this meeting when you basically just told Allan to shut up," she said pointedly.

Having other people acknowledge it helped confirm my suspicions that he was treating me badly for no good reason.

What about when it comes to dating?

The reality is, as a short man you can expect eight out of 10 women to immediately dismiss you as a potential sexual partner at first sight. The chances are, the remaining two out of 10 will only give you a couple of minutes to make your case before making excuses.

Whenever I say to my female friends that women don't like dating short men, they almost always say the same thing: "That's not true. I bet there are lots of women who love short men."

"Have you ever dated one?" I ask.

"Well, no…" they reply.

"Would you?"

An uncomfortable silence follows.

According to Freakonomics, the bestselling book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, short men are statistically less likely to receive responses from their online dating profiles than any other demographic group. The fact that I'm averaging one a year on my online dating profile means I'm actually breaking the odds through the sheer force of my amazing personality.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule that people love to bring up.

"Women loved Prince and he was tiny!" I hear over and over again.

Right, so all I have to do is go through life wearing eight-inch stiletto shoes, and be a musical genius who also happens to be the greatest live performer of his generation.

Image copyright Getty Images

I hear about guys who are shorter who are really uncomfortable around tall women. I think tall women go through a similar experience. I have tall female friends, who say all the time about guys they were dating: "He never let me wear heels," and "He was really self-conscious of people looking at us." Not me. If it turned out my soul mate was 6ft 2in, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest.

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.

I admit that sometimes I think I make life as a short man sound worse than it is. Would my life have been easier if I shot up an extra 6in during high school? Probably. But it's not like the life I've lived has been one of unremitting pain and misery.

I am who I am because of my height. It's given me this willingness to take risks that I call my "Parachute syndrome".

In a terrifying situation - even though I may be terrified, just like everyone else - my reaction is often: "Oh well, I'm standing at the door of this aeroplane - might as well jump out. What's the worst that could happen?"

Once when I was starting a new job, the company held an all-staff meeting in Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum, a huge sporting and concert arena. There was a tradition that each new employee got lightly hazed [put through an initiation ceremony] when joining the company. Bruno Mars (3in taller than me) was going to be playing the venue, so we were told to sing one of his songs. On the stage, everyone murmured, "We're not gonna do that," and looked down, shuffling their feet.

I had never heard a Bruno Mars song in my life, so I Googled some lyrics on my phone, and grabbed the microphone. I didn't know the tune, but I sang the chorus to Locked Out of Heaven to all these people I was about to work with.

As I was willing to do that in front of everyone, the chief executive immediately knew me by first name.

And I had the confidence to do that because I have this determination to transcend people's expectations of me. They might expect me to be quiet and hide, but actually I will jump out of the aeroplane.

Hopefully my parachute works.

It may also be because I am short that I am now a writer. I've already mentioned that short guys don't get taken seriously when they talk, so writing is a real chance for me to express myself and speak out. It's my one real skill. I started writing ghost stories, and although my books have never made it beyond the most obscure regional bestsellers lists, I often run into people who grew up reading them and it's always a special feeling.

Image copyright Allan Mott

As I'm getting older, I think that I'm actually getting better-looking.

A few years ago, I had a revelation: I had always thought that I was being funny by being self-deprecating but then I met a guy at a house party who told me, "I'm going to punch you if you make another negative comment about yourself."

So I've decided that I'm going to make jokes about how awesome and handsome I am. The thing I found is that people like it when they laugh with me about something nice and positive. Society doesn't think I'm a handsome ideal, but I will keep asserting that I'm awesome anyway.

Every selfie I put up on Instagram has a caption like: "Another handsome day!" or "Can you handle this much handsome?" I don't do self-deprecating any more.

When I look back at some of my prouder achievements, I have to admit these might not have happened if I was just an average guy and not an awesome shrimp.

Additional interviews by Elaine Chong