By Milena Beltramo
I bet my childhood took place a few inches higher than yours. I likely saw over your head when we lined up at the door to go to recess. You probably got used to me after a few months. Probably. Or maybe you just stopped telling me to move my head out of the way, and just scooted a bit to the right instead.
I spent elementary and middle school caught between pants too short and legs too long. Between the whiteboard and whiny kids. Between children’s menus and alcoholic beverages.
After a solid 17 years of talking to the tops of my peers’ heads, I think I know better than anyone how tall I am. I am mistaken-for-a-teacher tall, I am you-should-play-basketball tall, I am can-you-please-get-that-from-the-top-shelf-for-me tall. And with knowledge cultivated from years of constant input from strangers, I assure you, dear unknown commentator on my personal attributes, I am well aware that I tower over the townsfolk.
I’ve heard all your lines before; “You’re so tall!”, “You should play basketball!” “Do you play volleyball?” “You could be a model.” “Your head is in the way.” “Can you get that from the top shelf for me?” “You’re wearing heels?” And I’ll probably hear all your lines again.
These few sentences all mean the same thing: tall, tall, too tall. These are the lessons I was taught by the world; that I will always have to stand in the back row for photographs in the knowledge; that I am too tall for a girl.
And let there be no miscommunication, this knowledge did not spring forth unbidden from private musings; no, it was pounded into my head by the never ceasing tides of criticism and praise from everyone around me. And I mean everyone.
I’ve heard it from teachers, and I’ve heard it from classmates: From your mom once when she showed up to our cross-country meet; from coaches I don’t play for, and grandpas I pass in the mall, and women who wash their hands in the sink next to me; from the family in the booth behind us at Applebee’s, and those drunk guys on the beach.
Everywhere, all the time, strangers making comments–both positive and negative–uninvited, remarking on my body, telling me what I should do with it. Don’t misunderstand, I am not ungrateful for the compliments, but it would be nice not to have my height unceasingly under scrutiny, as if it were public property.
I know I’m tall. It wasn’t just a brief phase during childhood that I quickly let fall into the past. It followed me through my middle school and high school years, where a bit of manners, a few elegantly phrased sentences, and my wardrobe choices could result in being mistaken for an adult.
I was first accidentally served alcohol at twelve. The first time someone asked if the little girl I was shopping with (my then seven-year-old sister) was my daughter, was when I was fourteen. I haven’t forgotten my height at all. I never have.
It would be nice, though, to just forget that dresses that fit my friends become mini on me. To not worry about pants length or whether they sell shoes my size. To not wonder if it’s okay to wear heels on my date, since I’m already taller than he is, or whether that would make him insecure.
I suppose I love being tall, but after years of constant verbal barrage, I’d have to concede that it’s an acquired taste; A love developed simply because the only other option is to not love myself. But being tall has a price; it takes its toll on the heart, and it beats you down until you can only lift your head to hear the last and only words you’ve ever really heard: “We don’t sell extra longs”.