If you’re female and tall, you get beautiful descriptive adjectives. But add a bit of unwanted width, and the adjectives go south.
I have long since held a theory about tallness. Woman tallness, that is. Being of this persuasion myself, I feel I’m reasonably qualified to form theories about it. I’m pushing 5ft 10ins and, when my hair needs cutting (or at least a bit of quelling down with gel), I’m heading for 6ft. In the days when I wore heels, I topped the 6ft mark easily. I don’t mind being tall. Besides, there’s nothing I can do about it. It can sometimes be quite advantageous – high dusting isn’t a problem (if you were of a mind to high dust, that is).
But here’s the thing. Once you add a little bit of width to the height, you’re no longer simply ‘tall’. You become ‘big’. When you’re tall and not wide, you’re described variously as willowy, elegant, graceful, lissom, lithe, slender, svelte, slim, trim… any amount of beautiful adjectives. When the little bit of width gets added, though, the adjectives change. You’re hefty, sturdy, heavy, large, strapping. You’re ‘big’.
And I have this theory that society at large makes one particular assumption about big, tall women. Because we’re ‘big’, we’re deemed to be ‘capable’. Fine, big, strong, lumps of strapping competence.
And for ‘capable’, read ‘mannish’. It’s as if femininity is perceived to work on some weird sort of volume or per inch basis. It’s as if society allots every woman a fixed amount of femininity regardless of their size. Little women, therefore, are perceived to be packed full of it. Oozing out of them, even. Whereas the bigger woman has to dilute it a bit to make it go further. It’s nonsense. But it is a common perception.
I can guarantee you that if a neat, petite little woman is standing by her car on the roadside looking down at a flat wheel, any amount of macho knights in shining armour will stop to help and puff out their chests as they revel in the Sir Galahad routine. If it were me at the roadside, I’d be there yet. It’s assumed that I could take the nuts off with my teeth and lift the car without the aid of a jack. They assume that I probably own my own set of monkey wrenches and spanners and things. I’m big. Therefore I’m ‘capable’.
And it’s not just physical strength that’s assumed – we’re supposed to be stoic and manly in our attitudes and thinking as well. If somebody sees a petite, little, girly woman sobbing her heart out at a chick-flick, there’s a certain endearing quality to it. Men want to comfort her. Protect her. Kiss it better. If a fine, big, tall, strapping woman is seen to blubber at the same film, it’s just not the same thing. Everyone runs a mile lest this mad, leaking woman might head their way and drown them.
This theory, I might add, was not arrived at without a certain amount of field research. As it happens, I’m taller and bigger than most of my friends. Two mates in particular are what I’d call little – 5’1” and 5’2” or thereabouts. Whereas they’re both my mates, they don’t know each other and they live in different parts of the country. When I’m out with either one of them – in different locations – it’s the same thing. When either of them go up to the bar for a drink, they only have to stand and look small and the sea of bodies will part. And someone will invariably help these little princesses to carry back the two drinks to our table.
When it’s my round, I have to get in there with my elbows and bellow.
And the truth of it is that both of these little pocket Venuses are the most capable women I know. Neither of them has ever changed a flat wheel in their life simply because they’ve never needed to – He Man and the Masters of the Universe arrive at the scene before you can say hubcaps. But either one of them could do it blindfolded. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t know where to begin. I pay an annual premium to the shining knights of the AA.
And it’s the same with the sad films. I bawled my way through Steel Magnolias. (Short synopsis: Julia Roberts… advised not to have babies after a kidney transplant… kidney donated by her mother… defied the advice… had a baby… and died). I was convulsing. In a fierce state altogether. Chatting about it to one of my tiny little cute-as-a-button, popsicle mates? Not a drop. Not even a gulp. ‘Silly cow,’ she said. ‘She was well warned’.
The unfortunate thing about my amateur theory is that it actually has academic support. Well, sort of. I contend that big women are labelled ‘manly’ where no manliness exists; the academics, who conducted formal research on the subject, concluded that tall women do, in fact, display masculine traits.
The results of the research, completed a few years back by two psychology students in Scotland, concluded that: ‘Tall women may have higher levels of testosterone which may cause them to have more masculine personalities. The physiology of the body controls the psychology of the mind.’
Their study showed that taller women were less inclined to have babies and were more focused on their careers. They suggested that taller women might display the ‘male’ traits of being assertive, competitive and ambitious. They’re quick to point out that they’re not tarring all tall women with the same brush – ‘We’re not saying that all tall women are ambitious and all short women just want to have babies’ – but they remain adamant that their research ‘suggests an effect in this direction’.
I ask you. They should meet my mates.
Another bit of bizarre research published around the same time could offer a crumb of comfort to us biggies. It seems that a certain category of men find bigger women attractive. The unfortunate thing about this is the category of men in question… they’re hungry.
In 2006, Viren Swami, then a psychologist at Liverpool University’s Department of Public Health and psychologist Martin Tovee, from Newcastle University, recruited 60 university students for the study. Half of them were given a good meal and described themselves as ‘very full’. The other half didn’t eat and described themselves as ‘hungry’ or ‘very hungry’.
They were shown pictures of women of various body shapes (the faces were obscured to ensure the men were rating body shape only) and asked to rate them on a beauty scale of 1 – 9. The hungry men rated the plumper women more highly. The research, published in the British Journal of Psychology, concludes that men still think in a primeval way. ‘In evolutionary terms, if you are overweight it means you have more resources,’ said Dr Swami. The disheartening thing about the study was that, as soon as the men had eaten, they reverted to choosing the more petite form.
So it seems the biggies are doomed. If you’re female, tall and tending a bit towards the wide side, prepare to develop a strange urge to buy Autotrader and expect to gain an innate understanding of the offside rule any day now.
My only hope, it seems, when I’m next stranded with a flat wheel, is that any passing knight who spots my difficulty has skipped lunch.