Vertical Challenges
by Chris Hamre
June 2003


Introduction

“Hey midget! Midget!” came the voice from a truck, as I walked down the Las Vegas strip a few years ago. “I hate people like you, do you know that?” he barked. What did I do to provoke his tirade? Well, nothing. I didn’t know this man, yet he hated me. Why? Because I am a short man, 5’4”. That definitely doesn’t classify me as a little person, which is 4’10” and under. Sadly, it wasn’t the first time I experienced this type of ignorance.

My name is Chris and I am going to convey some of my experiences and thoughts on what it is like to grow up short in a tall person’s world. When I tell some others about these experiences, they look at me like I had just told them a fairy tale. It’s either that or “Get over it, Chris.”

My experiences

I knew that I was different in kindergarten, when all the kids were taller than I was; that is when the teasing began. I knew my lack of size was going to be a struggle for me when I participated in soccer and baseball at the age of seven and I didn’t get much playing time. This continued all throughout my school years as well. Basketball, flag football, tackle football, you name it - if I wasn’t excluded from it, I barely saw any playing time. How was I supposed to develop my talent and confidence from the sideline?

I received my education from a Lutheran school and learned that even Christians discriminate, unfortunately. I was picked on and left out of things; I felt invisible much of the time. I remember being told that competing in sports in the Christian school was about fun and fellowship. I couldn’t help but think it was more about winning when I found myself, along with others, sitting on the bench much of the time so that I “wouldn’t hurt the team”. Needless to say, I didn’t have much fun when it came to participating in sports in elementary school and beyond.

When I was six or seven, I did have a girlfriend (puppy love)and after a while she used to say, “How can I be taller than you, you are a boy?” I went a long time without a girlfriend after that. When I entered junior high, I had to get growth hormone shots to catch up to my taller peers. I was only about 4’ 2” at the age of twelve. These shots didn’t make me taller than I would have been if I had just grown naturally, it just got me to my final height quicker. Now, when I think about it, it’s sad that I had to do it in the first place. I experienced headaches during this period and I was originally told that I was eating too much salt and that was the cause of these headaches. I researched the topic of growth hormones on the net and found that severe headaches were a side effect of these shots. I noticed a little while after the shots stopped, the headaches went away. So, for anyone who is considering this for their children, please research it a little more.

Right before I turned fifteen, I reached about 5’ 1” and weighed just about 100 lbs. I also had an experience which affected me deeply. My church, along with other churches in our area, would form a summer softball league. One Sunday, during the summer of 1983, the coach started me in right field (where else right?). Well, when the bottom of the first inning came up and it was my turn to bat, he took me out of the game and never put me back in. Now, this was a church league, it was supposed to be about fun right?

He didn’t take anyone else out of the game. I never got an explanation for it. I wasn’t a bad player and that shouldn’t have mattered anyway. I knew he took me out because I was short, what other reason could there have been? I don’t know what upset me more; the fact that I was pulled from the game for no justifiable reason or the fact that no one questioned it? Where was the Christianity then?

So, by the time I had entered high school, my esteem wasn’t very high and my attitude was going downhill also. My high school principal (who had been a missionary) initiated my high school tumult by making fun of my height during a pep rally. He said something like “If it rains, Chris is so small, I am afraid he will melt away in his football uniform”. It was a small school, so it didn’t offer much in the way of sports (just football, basketball and baseball). Like elementary school, I didn’t get much of an opportunity to play in the games. This took its toll on my esteem and confidence. Since the school was so small, everyone knew who the good players were and who was always on the bench. It affected the social scene. I was treated like I was invisible and it was really frustrating coming from people who were supposedly Christian.

Granted, I am not saying I was the most talented athlete, I wasn’t. However, I wasn’t given much of a chance to find out either. This left me feeling isolated a lot of the time.

During my senior year in high school, a picture was taken of me in my football uniform, while I was standing on the sideline next to two of my teammates. One was 5’9” and about 185 pounds and the other was about 6’1”.

Needless to say, I was dwarfed. The picture was posted in the local paper and the caption under it read: “Cal Lutheran is a small school, and Chris Hamre, is a shining example!” I thought that was in pretty poor taste. I felt ashamed at the time and humiliated, yet it didn’t seem to bother my Christian brethren. You can imagine my glee when I graduated that high school.

My confidence did get better after high school. I finally had people where I worked treating me with respect and I seemed to be doing better socially as a result; my shyness was evaporating. I even had the courage to approach woman and flirt a little. I joined the navy a couple of years later. I had a friend that joined the army and I was going to go in with him but I was disqualified. I wasn’t in school and my father kind of gave me a push towards the navy, which he had served in. I was singled out when I first got in boot camp, which is not something you want. The company commander once told me, “You have got to be the shortest piece of shit in the navy, do you know that?”

These were just some of my experiences.

My Thoughts on Heightism

Heightism does exist and people don’t want to admit it. People are going to discriminate against anything or anybody that is different. They’ve done it to blacks, women, gays and people of different religions; though now there is legal recourse if you do it to one of these groups. There is the NAACP, ACLU, NOW, etc. Where is the advocacy group for the shorter men and women of this country? With the exception of the LPA - which is for people under 4’10”, there isn’t one. We are told to “Get over it!” Do they tell this to any members of those other groups?

How about in the areas of sports? In the four big sports, there aren’t many short men are there. There are exceptions: Earl Boykins - 5’5”- of the NBAs Golden State Warriors. Emmitt Smith - 5’9”- now of the Arizona Cardinals (all time rushing leader I might add). David Eckstein - 5’6”- of the world champion Anaheim Angels. Making reference to a comment made by Tim McCarver during a Yankee - Angel playoff game last year, he said that David Eckstein was “listed as 5’8” in the program but admitted he was only 5’6””. Was he saying that Eckstein was guilty of something? What was he admitting to? Why should he be ashamed of something over which he has no control? It’s ironic though, most men would say they are taller than listed, not shorter.

How about in the area of romance and marriage? It seems that the majority of women want taller men. Taller men are supposedly more healthy and have better status than us shorter men. So, even the shorter women want taller men. That way, their kids will turn out to be taller. My question to the people who deny heightism exists would be this: What difference does the height of your child make if everyone, no matter what their height, is treated fairly? If heightism is addressed and goes away, then short men might be as prominent as taller men and therefore have the same status. My father is 60, he’s about 5’8”, and is in very good health for his age, as is my 5’1” mother, and myself. So, to me, that health excuse is just that, an excuse.

I would also like to bring up this Napoleon complex thing, which frustrates me to no end. People define it as a short man who is aggressive, controlling and doing that as a means to compensate for his lack of height. Why can’t it be that he is just trying to succeed like his taller peers? Do taller men then have a complex under these same conditions? If a short man isn’t a go getter, or ambitious, he is viewed as wimpy and treated like he is invisible. I understand that Napoleon himself, short by today’s standards, wasn’t really that diminutive back then. Maybe his reign had nothing to do with him trying to compensate for his lack of height and just the fact that he was a ruthless tyrant. What then, do some of you say about Saddam Hussein? He didn’t look very short to me? What do you attribute his reign to? Not all short men are evil and not all evil men are short! I just wonder, at what height is it okay for a man to be controlling, have a take charge attitude and it be a positive thing? A couple of weeks ago, a reader of the NY Daily News wrote in and complained about Mayor Bloomberg. He referred to him as “Lord Bloomberg” comparing him to “Lord Faraquaad” of the movie “Shrek”. He was basically saying that since he was vertically challenged, he is raising taxes and passing stupid laws. I read that and sent in a response to it, which didn’t get printed.

Short men are also treated differently in the labor market. According to a study conducted by Nicola Persico, Andrew Postlewaite and Dan Silverman, who are economics professors at the University of Pennsylvania, shorter people are paid less than taller workers because of how they were treated in their adolescence. They said because of their short stature as an adolescent, they were probably socially rejected and didn’t develop the confidence and personal skills to succeed in the labor market. So, no matter how tall they are as an adult, their pay will basically reflect how confident they are. If that’s not an admittance that heightism exists, I don’t know what is. However, people still discriminate as adults. They’ll hire a taller man over a shorter man no matter how confident the shorter man is. I’m guessing they assume that the shorter man isn’t confident.

There are successful short males, many of whom are in the entertainment industry. Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Michael J. Fox, etc. There are successful short women as well. However, even some want their leading men to be tall. Correspondent Joyce Marcel went so far as to call the afore mentioned actors elves; stressing the fact that tall, leading men were important to her.

It still seems okay in society to insult short people; calling us elves, midgets, runts etc. No other minority group would have to put up with this.

Soon, we will no longer have to tolerate it either. I just hope that by the time I have kids, though not in the foreseeable future, that they don’t have to tolerate the same prejudices that I have had to endure. It’s just absolutely inhumane and Un-American to discriminate against anybody! Let’s find a way to end it!!!

Comments can be sent to me, C. Hamre, at mrdramatik10@hotmail.com