Walking Tall

How do I love Arianne Cohen, author of The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life From on High? Let me count the ways:

1. She’s 6’3”, was once half of America’s tallest couple, and rocks high heels.

2. She’s a Harvard grad and a prolific writer who covers fascinating topics, from naked parties to gay parenting, for a slew of respectable magazines.

3. While researching her book, she investigated the perks of living tall, such as the fact that tall people are more fertile, earn 2.5% more per inch than their petite counterparts, and are more likely to be elected President (26 out of the last 30 presidential contests were won by the taller candidate.)

4. She wasn’t the slightest bit rude to me when, during our phone interview, I had to ask if I could call her back in 15 minutes. Admittedly, she didn’t know - though she will now - that the reason for the call back was I had a freelance hairdresser at my house highlighting my locks, and had to run to the bathroom and rip the foils off my keppie before the bleach fried my scalp alive. (My interview with Cohen was scheduled after the hair appointment). Admittedly, I did not tell Cohen about my silvery Medusa head because, well, it makes me sound crazy. But as a fellow Tall, I truly believe she would have definitely cut me some slack.

Below, Arianne (rhymes with MaryAnn) goes above and beyond (heh) to answer my questions about everything from feeling big to wearing heels to Janet Reno.

Why did you write this book?
The benefits of height are primarily adult pleasures. When you’re growing up tall, it seems like there are very few reasons to enjoy being tall. It was really import to take ownership of my own height – to really embrace it. Quite frankly, I wasn’t doing that on my own. [But] height has really defined my entire life - from what sports I play to who I date to what I wear to my income potential to how people relate to me. And no one ever wanted to talk about it. There wasn’t a book to discuss what I’d been experiencing every single hour of every single day. So I was really excited to write this. It’s essentially a bible for tall people.    

Do you think people empathize with tall problems (flood-like pants; growing pains; dating problems)? Or is it like, ‘Poor you, you’re a slim, beautiful amazon who needs extra-long jeans?”
I think average-height people often don’t realize two things: One is how defining it is to be tall. It’s one of the very few traits that makes you visible in public and there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t alter it. The vast majority of other physical traits, you can. The other thing is, I think average-height people don’t realize how alienating it is to live in a society that isn’t built for you. I’m not complaining, but every time I get on a bus, none of the seats fit. My knees get black and blue from hitting the seat in front of me. I cannot walk into a mainstream store and find cloths that fit. That really sends a message to the average tall teen growing up: Society is not built for you. There are plenty of benefits to being tall but there are also some negatives and it’s important to talk about both.

When Bea Arthur recently passed away, I blogged about how this legendary Tall helped me with my body image. How has your height impacted the way you feel about your body  - ie have you struggled with feeling ”big” versus just tall?
I have absolutely struggled with feeling very big or manly. But what I’ve discovered is that our culture really has a lot of confusion over what femininity is. It’s often confused with petite-ness. If you look at ads – perfume ads, clothing ads – you’ll often see image of a larger man sort of dominating a woman. If you look in other cultures outside America, those same ads feature a woman embracing a man. I think women often find themselves in the crosshairs of that confusion. But what we need to remember is that culture’s confusion of femininity has nothing to do with them. They’re tall and beautiful and feminine – it’s important to separate yourself from that [cultural stereotype].

Who are some of your favorite Tall TV stars or icons?
There is a dearth of tall female icons and when I was growing up two choices: Sarah, Plain and Tall  - not Sarah, Tall and Awesome - and Janet Reno, who was being portrayed by a man on Saturday Night Live. When you’re a 12 or 13 or 14-year-old girl, that’s not inspiring. I think the reason is well-known tall women, when interviewed, don’t talk about their bodies because they want to be known for something other than their bodies.  I think it’s really important for tall women to speak up and present themselves as pretty and sexy and confident and mainstream and to be as loud about it as possible.

How do you think being tall has contributed to your personality? Is it even possible to be tall and introverted?
I’ve always said I feel my personality is much bigger and outgoing because I basically grew my personality to fit my body Many women do that. I think the challenge of being tall is you’re always public. It’s essentially living life with a spotlight on you. You never blend in. That’s a great boon for people who are naturally extroverted and enjoy the spotlight but it can be a challenge for people who are naturally shy and would prefer to blend in with the wallpaper.

What’s the worst pickup line or backhanded compliment you’ve received because of your height? Mine was when an elderly man, upon being introduced to me by my grandparents (all seated at the time), stood up to shake my hand and, upon realizing I was towering over him, stared up and me, shook his head and gasped, “Oh my! You’re a big one, ain’tchya?!”
People can say some very obnoxious things. I think what’s important is to remember that whenever somebody makes a comment, what they’re saying is a reflection of their perception of tallness. It has nothing to do with you – you’re just standing there. And tall is, objectively speaking, gorgeous. It just is. Long lines are very flattering.  I think often it’s very easy to take what people say personally – for example, people will often say to me, ‘Dude, you’re like, man-tall’. What they’re really saying is they associate height with gender. That has nothing to do with me. I don’t look manly. (laughs). I really don’t.

Flats or high heels?
It depends on where I’m going. I think tall women absolutely should wear high heels. One thing I learned while writing the book is that very tall people tend to believe they are at the absolute maximum acceptable height. But the truth is, if you’re already tall, two inches (from high heels) isn’t going to make you look that much taller.

Where are your favorite places to get clothes that fit?
The Tall Girl Shop – I believe they have roughly two dozen stores nationwide. Discovering it was like Born Agains discovering Jesus. And a website called Long Tall Sally. What I do suggest for all women is that every store has a “fit size,” which is what they consider their average customer. All clothes go up and down from that size. You should only shop in stores in which YOU are the fit size. If you’re generally in the middle of the range of sizes, you’re in the right place.

What can you say to make tall teens more comfortable in their skin?
I found there’s one defining factor that can determine whether adults are confident and happy in their tall bodies: Whether there is a tall role model around. 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. And put children in activities where their height is an asset. It’s much easier to love being tall when you see yourself benefiting from it every single day.

If you had a daughter, would you want her to be tall?
I want her to be super tall. I used to be part of the World’s Tallest Couple – he was 7’2” - and he used to say he wouldn’t accepts sons under 7 feet.

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