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I was a 22-inch-long, 9-pound, 3-ounce baby. Considering my mom is 5'3'' and my dad 5'8" (on a good day), you can imagine the shock in the delivery room when the OB/GYN pulled out a miniature giraffe. Unlike my big-boned cousin, Adam, whose impressive birth stats earned him the hospital nursery nickname "Adam Neal the Big Deal," I received no early height-related monikers that I know of, but have since been asked, "Do you play basketball” so many times you’d think it was my middle name. Leslie “Do you play basketball?" Goldman.
At 5'11", I know what it’s like to be tall. I know what it’s like to be placed in the back row for school photos, to cry in the dressing room stall at Guess circa 1988 because I couldn’t get their tapered jeans to fit over my size 10 feet, to suffer from a severely limited acceptable dating pool prior to college (My parents weren’t exactly keen on my flirting with 28-year-olds -- inappropriately old but at least not short -- when I had just gotten my driver’s license.)
So I feel uniquely qualified to dole out advice to 12-year-old first daughter Malia Obama, who at 5'9" is nearly seven inches taller than the average young woman her age. That means she can practically look her famous parents in their eyes: President/dad Barack Obama is 6'1"; First Lady/mom Michelle Obama stands 5'11". When dad won the election in late 2008, Malia appeared to be about 5'4", but in the past 20 months, she’s experienced a major growth spurt, the likes of which have not been seen since Heidi Montag’s chest ballooned overnight in November 2009.
Now considered a mini-me of mom Michelle, I’d imagine Malia may be having some trouble adjusting to her quickly-changing physique. To ease her way, here are my embracing-the-height, loving-the-air-up-there tips for living large:
-Your dad will not like the male attention that comes your way. Men are drawn to tall women. They can’t help it -- we’re all up in their face, just walking down the street. And while some guys have a thing for tiny, petite ladies, a good number of them are strongly attracted to long, lean ladies. Because many of your male classmates have yet to catch up with you puberty-wise, they may shy away from showing their true emotions, which leaves older men to take their place. No father wants this, even if he has an armada of Secret Service agents prepared to rip would-be suitors limb-from-limb. You father recently commented on your height during a speech in Kansas, when he said, “Even though she's 5'9", she's still my baby.” He added that he was relieved his little girl had just gotten braces because they make her look “like a kid and she was getting ... she's starting to look too old for me.” This will never stop.
- You’re lucky to have your mother as a tall woman mentor. I never had a tall friend or family member to look up to (indeed, my grandpa was considered the tallest one in my family, and he can comfortably snack off of my shoulder). When I interviewed Arianne Cohen, author of The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life From on High, she said having a tall role model is a defining factor in determining whether a vertically-enhanced young woman grows into a confident adult. “[You need] someone who is very verbal about how much they love being tall. Not just a tall family member, but someone who genuinely loves it and talks about loving it all the time. Children can sense their parent’s true feelings about their bodies. My mother did not love being tall -- she dreamed of being 5'5" (she was 5'11"). I absolutely missed that growing up.”
-You will be treated like an adult long before you are one. Whether it’s teachers asking you to help rearrange desks, customers in Macy’s asking if you work there when you’re really just shopping for your eighth-grade graduation outfit, or bartenders offering you a cocktail when you’ve barely let the ink dry on your Sweet Sixteen invitations, people will assume you are older than you really are. Height conveys an air of authority and maturity -- it’s one reason why 26 out of the last 30 presidential contests were won by the taller candidate.
-You will wish you were short. This will disappear with time, but for now your extra inches may make you feel awkward and freakish. You may curse when non-capris hit above your ankle and three-quarter length sleeves fail to cover your elbows. You will shed a tear because Austin, the cutest boy in the seventh grade, just asked you "How's the air up there?" Just trust me, this will not last forever. Being tall is full of advantages you have yet to reap, like the fact that tall people are more fertile and earn 2.5 percent more per inch than their petite counterparts.
- You will be put in the back row for pictures. Forever. Get used to it. Worse things could happen.
-You will repeatedly be asked if you play basketball or are a model. Again, get used to it. People mean it as a compliment. You could always come back with a snarky retort, but no matter how good it might feel at the time, it will reflect poorly on you and besides, it's not going to stop people from asking it again of the next tall women they see.
-You need not wear flats. As I’ve gotten older, I have totally and completely embraced my height. Whereas I used to shun heels, I now wear high heels at night, frequently surpassing 6’1”. I love it. It makes me feel strong and confident and powerful. Plus, I can get the host’s attention faster at restaurants and hailing taxis is a cinch. Rock ballet flats if you want, but don't limit yourself.
-You are gorgeous just the way you are. Your role in the First Family lands you in the spotlight, exactly where no pre-teen, tall or short, wants to be. Just keep handling it with grace and style, and look to your soaring comrades for advice and guidance. As a tallie, you’ve been born into an elite club of natural born leaders, and we all welcome you with very long, open arms.
Like this? Read these:
- Walking Tall
- How Bea Arthur Helped My Body Image