This week, the actor Jameela Jamil said she wants to see less dating stereotypes on screen. Instead of the usual pretty-women-meets-handsome-man trope, she wants to see love between able-bodied and disabled characters, mixed-race love and, why not, tall women with short men.
It is with much shame that I admit to having been one of those women: the ones who judge the attractiveness of a partner as proportional to his height. My old online dating bio used to carry the tagline “six foot and above only”.
I could distance myself from my height-shaming by telling you that 99.9% of my boyfriends have been under 6ft (in the same vein as racists who often attest “but I have a black friend!”) but the truth is that I signed up to the mantra that taller means better.
It does seem like short kings – the internet’s pet name for short men – are having a moment. Ever since the comedian Jaboukie Young-White coined the term in 2018 (“We are valid. We are strong. We are at a lower risk of heart disease,” he joked on Twitter) there has been more space to talk about short men being desirable. Why not extend this newfound acceptance of short men to the big screen?
In film and media I want to see short men with tall women. I want intertrans love. I want dark skinned women with white/light skinned men. I want Asian men with white women. I want thin men with fat women. I want to see able bodied with disabled. Tired of dating stereotypes. ❤️— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) January 14, 2020
Now, I know what you’re all thinking – there is such a dearth of diversity on screen, should this really be the hill we die on? But consider this: our obsession over tall men is related to patriarchy.
Take the movies in which mixed-height couples do appear. In Shallow Hal, Gwyneth Paltrow (5ft 9in) towers over Jack Black (5ft 6in). The premise of that movie (man gets hypnotized so he doesn’t realize he is dating an overweight woman) tells us something about the rules of attraction in a patriarchal world: a short man can date a tall woman, but only if she is fat (and he is tricked into it).
In the Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence (5ft 9in) plays Katniss Everdeen, who is taller than her partner, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, 5ft 7in). Peeta’s character is soft: he’s a bread-baker who hides from conflict rather than facing it. He can’t compete with Everdeen’s best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth, 6ft 3in) who hunts and blows things up. At the end of the movie, Gale indirectly kills Katniss’s sister, which should probably be a lesson to us all about toxic masculinity.
If the problem with toxic masculinity is that it idolizes men for all those things that pointlessly connote masculinity without equating to it – violence, machismo, confidence – then why not consider height in this equation?
People constantly (and wrongly) equate height with masculinity. Men who are taller get promoted more, paid more and are considered better leaders. CEOs have an average height over 6ft. Presidential candidates who are taller are preferred (except in France, it seems).
Height is an unattainable beauty standard for short men – what are they supposed to do, grow?
Come on, feminists: to accept that there are conventional male beauty standards doesn’t undermine our cause, it elevates it. Patriarchy isn’t just a standard that entraps women, it’s a standard that entraps everyone. This year, let’s spotlight the worth of our short kings.