My Experiences and Opinions on Being a Height Challenged Person
by Jason Young
September 2005

The Present

I am a five foot four white 34 year old male from Australia. Just as in most westernized communities, Australia has a culture of discrimination against small people. The issue in Australia I believe has more ramifications as there is a greater emphasis on being a "bloke" (Aussie slang for a male), and all that entails. To compound this, Australia also has a culture of "the battler" and a disdain for "whingers" (Aussie slang for complainers). In my experience Height Discrimination (HD) falls under both these categories as most people do not accept HD as a justifiable complaint. To the world and within Australia we are seen as the lucky country but this does not mean we do not have our share of discrimination.

Australia has history of racially vilifying people which continues to this day. The Stolen Generation of Australian Aborigines in the recent past where aboriginal children who where removed from their natural parents and placed in "white" foster care. It is still difficult for our government and people to except wrongs and apologize for them. The Stolen Generation has yet to receive an apology for their treatment (can I say as an aside that on behalf of one Australian white male, I apologize to the Stolen Generation). Today we have the problem of people seeking asylum (where even Australian citizens have also been wrongfully detained or deported). What has this to do with HD? Well it exemplifies the nature of Australia's culture of accepting wrongs unless compelled to do otherwise.

The Early Years

I was born a small baby, around 6 lbs, and didn't grow very fast. My father is five foot four and my mother is five foot three so it's only natural. What is strange is I have a older biological brother pushing six foot one (more on that later).

As a child I never outgrew clothes, the clothes always wore out first. I never can get clothes that fit without alteration, I am lucky my mother is very good with a sewing machine!

Growing pains? I never had them. When I was ten I went to a hospital for a week where they checked everything because I wasn't growing. I was a candidate at that time for growth hormone or something like it but I was not put on the programme. They even thought I might be a dwarf!

As with most small people I was bullied at school. This was compounded by my family moving around due to my father's employment (similar experiences to Shane Francis in A Short Stay). So I had to deal with the issue of making new friends all the time. To add further fuel to the fire, my older brother is quite an opinionated person who liked to fight and generally won. So I would also get bullied, beaten up or picked on by the older people my brother had belittled or beaten up etc. I was lucky that my brother recognized this and would try to protect me from these incidents when he could.

Before I reached puberty, I had no specific opinion on height. I was just me. Once puberty arrived the bullying increased and my escape was to make light of it. This saved me from many fights but didn't increase my self worth. Before this time I was an A grade student, so much so, that the school board and my parents allowed me to skip a year. This compounded the height issue as well. Unfortunately, by the time I left high school I was a mediocre student at best, with no self worth and as my parents said "something is mentally wrong with him".

I had no chance with the girls at high school. Yes they would call me cute or something like that but that was the start and the finish of it. During high school I tried to make light of my lack of height but this is not easy during puberty. As a result I made slightly more acquaintances but respect was not there. I even had teachers calling me by nicknames (smurf, mascot, etc).

Sports? What a joke. My brother is a very active and talented sports-person and I was always his practice partner. As a result, my skills and sporting ability became above average. However the problem was displaying these skills to others since the attitude "he's so small, he can't be any good" was prevalent. Once I was allowed to display my ability the inevitable comment was "you surprised me". Gee thanks for the compliment. One of my nicknames was mascot because when I ran onto the sports-field the comments usually revolved around "is he the mascot? Ha Ha".

I graduated high school when I was sixteen and I was around five foot tall. I was employed and got my first taste of real life.

The Adult Years

I looked forward to my adult years, to a time of mature reasoning and logical thought processes. What a let down.

After a year of work I decided to try university and having more of an analytical mind I applied for science courses. I worked for five years after graduating, then went back to university in my middle twenties to further my scientific career. During this period I rediscovered my love for knowledge and was accepted in honour societies for academic achievement. I also rediscovered HD was alive and well. I was dating a girl I was very attracted to. While at university, I was the best thing to her (to help her studies), but in a social setting I was actively discouraged. Obviously it didn't last long after that. As the saying goes "get back on the horse and try again". Unfortunately it happened again with a different girl.

My opinion is that some females see height in the way an evolutionist would describe, that is getting a 'fit' offspring, one that may be bigger, stronger and thus more protective. Some girls are attracted to intellect but in my experience most people initially care more for physical appearance. I also believe that there is a proportion of females who are more affected by peer pressure and the negative stereotypes of smaller men. For example, at a nightclub one girl I was trying to get to know said "I'm not interested because you would have a little dick". Now I'm not worried by rejection but the added information is unwarranted. Imagine the social ramifications if I had said "I'm not interested in you because you're fat and ugly".

I also believe there are a proportion of people who do not see height as a factor in a potential relationship. These people are few and far between. When I discuss HD with people the general reaction is "I don't do that", but when you observe their actions an entirely different picture appears. As the saying goes "actions speak louder than words".

This is not limited to one gender. It is interesting when I talk to my brother about HD. He honestly believes that it doesn't exist and speaking of it is a sign of a weak person that cannot deal with life. My brother's personality is very strong willed so a lot of the evidence for HD he has discarded without thought because he does not treat people like that. Biased? Yes and no. I love my brother and he has always been good to me, but he also has friends ranging in size from my height to the very tall. I have observed that he does not treat anyone different because of height or any discriminating factor; thus to me he is a special person even if he wasn't my brother.

Unfortunately, a lot of people in Australia will verbalize the same attitude but their actions contradict their statements. When you bring this to their attention the attitude becomes "don't be a whinger" or "act like a man". Soon as you "act like a man" it is then interpreted as Short Man's Syndrome. How people can deny HD exists yet accuse people of Short Man's Syndrome, is a concept that doesn't make sense to me.

This attitude can be summed up in a colloquial term of "the aussie battler", who takes the knocks life has to offer, doesn't complain and keeps going. This attitude is dying in Australia and good riddance, not from the perspective of HD but all other forms of discrimination which have been recognized. An enlightened Australia? Well we are taking steps in fighting sexual discrimination, racism, ageism, discrimination against the disabled an so forth. As I stated previously, HD is not recognized in Australia due to this aussie battler mentality. I can also see why people are reluctant to accept such a notion as it requires people to examine their own morals and make an assessment. This is a difficult thing for most people to do as we believe that we are righteous. With the advent of political correctness people are asked more and more to examine the way they treat others. It requires a lot of effort to adjust lifetime habits, but still does not make discrimination of any form tolerable.

I have had issues with being treated with respect or authority throughout my working career. My employers seem to like my work and initiatives but colleagues seem intent on knocking me down. When I brought a number of them to task in a meeting, it was acknowledged that their refusals to accept my proposals were based mainly on lack of respect due to my stature. How did I manage this? I had made suggestions previously in a minuted meeting which were derided. In a subsequent meeting the same suggestions were made by an imposing tall new recruit and roundly applauded. I provided this evidence to the following meeting and asked why. A colleague called me a "little smartarse" which allowed me to further investigate the opinion. I hear people say "it's not what you say it how you say it". While I was studying I was employed as a "customer service representative" not a salesperson. My job was to give good service to internal and external customers. I was also commended for my excellent communication skills by an advertising executive with Channel 7 (a television station in Australia). I also was the convener for a regular professional information night. So my oral communication skills are quite good.

The Future

In the future, HD may be recognized but it will be a long time coming. Australia seems to adopt policies after another country has done the hard work. So in my opinion HD will not be relevant in Australia until it becomes a commonly accepted issue in another country, most notably America. I personally do not think that having lobby groups or bulletins as such will work until it is readily accepted by another country. In that respect, Australia is generally a follower when it comes to revolutionary thinking or social policies.

As for myself, I will be the "Aussie Battler" as demeaning as it is until the concept of HD is accepted in a broad sense. Perhaps writing the occasional comment or bringing work colleagues to task may help until HD is accepted as part of discrimination that should be stopped.