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modern ms manners: how not to comment on someone’s appearance

As a preface to this column I advise you all that I am a woman. I am also quite tall, coming in at a fabulous 5 foot 11 inches in height. I also enjoy wearing high heels. Now you might be asking “Danielle, why are you sharing all of these benign facts with us?” Glad you asked Lip readers! It has been my experience that the idea of being a tall woman and yet remaining feminine somehow perplexes certain members of society to the extent that they often feel compelled to act in completely idiotic ways. Thankfully not everyone appears to suffer from this affliction, however during my lifetime I have encountered this issue enough to believe it warrants some discussion.

On a regular basis I still often have people informing me of my height, as if my growing in stature has occurred overnight in a seemingly Alice-in-Wonderland type scenario and completely without my knowing it. Comments ranging from “You are so tall” all the way through to “How’s the weather up there?” have all come my way at one point or another in a variety of contexts; some innocent and jocular and others just plain rude.

Whilst I have no hesitation in reporting that the weather in those scenarios is “suddenly hostile with a strong chance of sarcasm”, I have been left pondering what would happen if the situations were reversed. What if I was suddenly the socially inept moron who out of some questionably innocent motivation started saying things like “You are by far the smallest person I have ever seen” or “Do your legs get tired after walking all day?”

Thankfully, unlike some others I was not raised by (what I can only assume were) wolves, but rather by pretty decent parents who taught me not to comment on other people’s appearances. Call us crazy, but it was considered just to be bad manners.

Once I learned to get over the abhorrence of people spouting their verbal diarrhoea all over me, I could not help but notice that there seemed to be a distinct double standard going on – not only between tall and short people, but also between men and women. Even as I wrote the hypothetical comments about shorter people above, I felt uneasy just thinking that way and have no doubt as to the offence I would cause if I actually said such things to people. So why does it not work in reverse? Not to mention there seems to be little controversy when a shorter male is dating a taller female. I have dated shorter men and have thought nothing of it and yet, this again seems to be something that warrants much discussion and excitement among the general masses. This leads me to conclude that underlying this issue remain certain social stereotypes about what it means to be “feminine” and what it means to be “masculine” in a relationship. Apparently to some the idea of a taller woman in a relationship emasculates the male counterpart.

Whilst in a relationship with a shorter man, we were both confronted with people commenting on everything from whether we thought it was an issue (no) to why do I still wear heels (because they are fabulous). Some even questioned the practicalities of our sex life. I was never approached with the same questions when dating taller men.

Recently I was made aware that a certain radio station was hosting a “short singles” event in order to celebrate those amongst us who identify as being “shorter than average” and to encourage them to get out and meet each other. Some of the concerns expressed by callers were that it was easy for short women to find taller men, however this meant short men were missing out. Um hello short men, can I introduce you to taller women? Although you may have to shout, apparently we warrant our own stratosphere.

I am not issuing a mandate for how people should approach their prospective partners. Everyone has their own preferences and that is fine. However, what I am asking is for people to consider what it is they hope to achieve by blatantly commenting on an obvious characteristic of a person’s appearance. This works for everyone regardless of height, weight, skin colour, whatever.

When in doubt remember these key points:-

  • The person you are talking to is most probably aware of their appearance- and no they won’t be impressed with your goldfish powers of observance
  • Try to avoid using hyperbole when talking to someone about their appearance – comments like “You are the tallest person I know” not only makes you appear rude but also naive and unworldly (I don’t want your head to implode but there are others, taller than I!)
  • If you have to question how to have sex with a person of a differing height than you, you are probably doing it wrong.

(Image credit: 1.)

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