As a tall woman from a family of tall women (all 6’0″ or taller), I won’t lie, being tall is pretty great. You can see over other people in a crowded room, you can reach items on high shelves, and when you’re a teenager, people always assume you’re older than you are, so it’s easy to sneak into R-rated movies. But being tall isn’t all catwalks and game-winning volleyball spikes – there are some unique challenges that come with a few extra inches. While I would like to suggest that you walk a mile in a tall woman’s shoes, chances are her shoes wouldn’t fit. Instead, just read on and commiserate with the struggles common to tall women everywhere.
Pants and sleeves are never long enough
Shopping is the worst. When the average American woman is roughly 5’3″, that means the average-sized clothing at your local mall is designed to fit a woman who is at least six inches shorter than the shortest woman I talked to for this article. Or, on the high end, a full foot shorter than my sister, who’s a gorgeous 6’3″ tall. Even ‘long’ lengths of pants often come with inseams just 34-inches long. Which sounds like a lot… unless you’re over 5’10”, in which case those ‘long’ pants just amount to slightly longer high-waters.
Granted, things have gotten better in the last 10 years, with some brands offering clothing specifically for tall women (GAP and its affiliated stores, for example), and other specialty stores opening that carry nothing but clothing for tall women (for instance, Long Tall Sally), but most tall clothing is still limited and has to be ordered online. This makes shopping a challenge that all too often results in frustration and poorly-fitting purchases. If you’re an especially tall lady, check out Nordstrom Rack for cute, reasonably-priced, larger-size shoes (they carry up to size 14) and The Buckle for jeans with long inseams – they often have brands with inseams up to 37-inches long.
Skirts, shorts, and dresses are always too short
The flip side to pants and sleeves that are never long enough is that shorts, skirts, and dresses are often obscenely short. Or, as Chauniqua Major, a 5’9″ tall PR rep based in Florida says, “They fit like underwear!” Of course, you can always opt to purchase “knee length” apparel that ends up hitting you mid-thigh, but that cute mini dress you thought would look great for your office holiday party? Probably not the best bet if you want to keep things even remotely professional.
One-pieces are a wedgie nightmare
Being tall doesn’t just mean your limbs are longer than a chimpanzee’s, it means your entire body is longer, including your torso, which pretty much means one-piece anythings are out of the question. Bathing suits, leotards, and rompers all provide a fast track to the wedgies and camel-toes of your worst possible nightmares.
LaRayne Kayfes, a 6’0″ woman in a family that includes seven women all over 5’10”, shared that bathing suits, in particular, have been a challenge, “I even resorted to making mine and my daughter’s in the past. This includes ‘serious suits,’ as I swim most days.” And Kayfes isn’t alone. Nicole LaBonde, a 5’9″ professional dancer, choreographer, and instructor said, “At 5’9″ I’m not extremely tall, but still tall, and very thin. Dance clothes, like leotards and tights are almost impossible to get to fit. I need a small for my waist, chest, and hips, but if I got a small size it would never fit my length.” This is kind of a problem when you need to wear these items for a living.
Showerheads placed at neck-height
When you stand in a shower and the showerhead is staring you straight in the face, you know you’re about to have a lame bathing experience. Instead of stretching comfortably under a stream of hot water, sudsing up your hair like you see in commercials, you end up bending, squatting, and contorting to fit your head under the stream. It’s uncomfortable at best and painful at worst, with Amanda Medau, a 6’1″ mother of four from Houston adding, “I’m always squatting in the shower and even hitting the shower ceiling sometimes.” Yeah, that’s never fun.
Desks and counters are too low
Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’re tall, you’re basically a giant living in a world of miniatures. The reality is, the average American man is still just 5’10”, so anyone taller than that is kinda screwed when it comes to the proportions of standard furniture and construction. Desks, chairs, counters, tables — most of them are designed to be ergonomically-appropriate for the average person. When you’re above average, your body has to adapt to fit the average, which is usually pretty uncomfortable. “My desk at work is terribly uncomfortable. I’m always cracking my knees on it whenever I try to cross my legs. Adjusting the chair height doesn’t help because lowering the chair to accommodate my legs puts crazy strain on my arms and neck to type,” says Medau.
Brie Pierquet, a 5’10” social worker married to a 6’5″ man concurs, “At restaurants sometimes I look like I”m sitting at a child’s table. Just the other day I commented to my husband that the table we were at was not intended for tall people.” The struggle is real, folks.
The inevitable sports-related questions
I’m almost 35 years old. Even assuming I played sports in college (which I didn’t), it would have been well over a decade since I last played sports in a competitive league. And yet, two weeks ago I was stopped in the grocery store by a random dude who asked, “Do you play volleyball?” Uh, no.
The question isn’t mean or harmful. It’s fine, even. But if you answer, “No,” or even, “Not in a long time,” it’s always met with a confused disappointment, or even a follow-up question like, “Oh, not volleyball… but basketball, right? In college?” with such a weird hopefulness that almost necessitates some variety of “yes,” to help confirm whatever stereotypes the person has about who or what a tall woman should be. I certainly don’t go around asking short men if they’re gymnasts or jockeys, so it’s bizarre that the opposite takes place so frequently.
Navigating a world of shorter men
Across the board, the women I talked to for this article all love their height. They’re confident and self-assured. They sincerely enjoy being the tallest person in most rooms (especially when wearing heels), but that doesn’t mean the dynamic of being a tall woman in a world of shorter men isn’t sometimes awkward. Take, for instance, Alaina Johnson, a 6’0″ business owner from Dallas, who shared, “I was once at a business meeting where this guy stood on a chair — stood on a chair — to give me a hug. Granted, he was a shorter man and he was poking fun at himself, too, but we were at a business meeting.” And at a business meeting, there’s no good response to such a strange action.
Then there’s my sister, Mary McCoy, a PhD student and social worker who recounts many semi-combative conversations with men who think they’re taller than they actually are, “Inevitably, a guy who’s is maybe 5’11” will round up his height to 6’2″, then find it necessary to spar with me when I insist that no, I really am 6’3″, and he’s the one with the measuring problems.”
And finally, there are some cultural expectations that can actually interfere with a chosen career. As a professional dancer, LaBonde says, “It’s difficult for me to partner in dance. In heels I’m six feet tall, and most guys who dance, for whatever reason, are under six foot. Being partnered with someone shorter is difficult and aesthetically, not pleasing.” But it’s not just partnering that can be a challenge, “Today a director told me I was too tall for a role. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that, either.”
Lack of leg room on flights
If you think the leg room on flights is bad when you’re an averaged-sized person, just think how much worse it is when you’ve got the long legs of a gazelle. Johnson took a flight to Europe a few years ago and said, “I rode coach. I swear the airline had us in there like sardines. I basically had to keep my legs in the aisle the whole time, and gave the death stare to the person in front of me. That ish was about to get real if she leaned her seat back.” So yeah, be kind to tall people on flights. Think about offering your aisle seat to a long-legged passenger stuck at the window, or simply don’t lean your seat back. We really do need those extra two or three inches of space.
Messy bun problems
Aside from the fact that messy buns easily tack a couple extra inches onto a tall woman’s height (not a bad thing, of course), those extra inches can actually cause some problems. Megan Semanski, a 5’10” educator in Jefferson, Oregon says, “I can’t wear a messy bun on the top of my head and drive in my car. My hair smooshes on the roof of my car and has actually gotten closed in the moonroof a time or two.” Whoops.
Awkward group photo poses
Laura Williams for The List
When you’re a full head taller than some of your friends, group photos becomes a weird experience. Do you crouch? Half squat? Bend over or lean in? Kneel? The best solution is never clear, and it always looks awkward. Take this photo of me and two of my friends, for instance. It’s like the Sesame Street jingle, “Which one of these is not like the others?” Even crouching and leaning in still has me towering over my friends.
In polling and research conducted by tall women’s clothing brand, Long Tall Sally, a full 76-percent of tall women experience back pain. In my somewhat less-scientific research and polling, I’d say that number is closer to 100 percent. I’ve literally never met a tall woman who hasn’t had back pain. Whether that’s because long limbs and levers lead to more opportunities for muscular imbalances and injuries, or that tall women are more likely to slouch, sit at non-ergonomic desks, or fail to exercise their cores sufficiently to help prevent pain, the result is the same: sometimes debilitating bouts of complete misery. I feel for you, girl, I’ve been there. And as an exercise physiologist I can also attest that regular exercise, particularly exercise that targets the core, back, and shoulders, is particularly important.
Being unable to escape “the conversation”
It’s not just questions about sports that arise when you’re tall, it’s questions or comments about height, in general. Whenever you meet someone new, or you just make small talk with someone at the store, the subject of height inevitably arises. My sister-in-law, a 6’2″ psychologist and mother of two relays the challenge, “I’m very glad I’m tall, and I find myself hoping that my daughters will be, too. I cannot imagine having had that hope back in middle school. The primary lingering issue is that my height is such a regular part of conversations with folks. Most of these conversations aren’t negative. They just happen so frequently and people seem oblivious to how often I hear questions, observations, or compliments about my height. Height guessing is the most annoying, and compliments are the easiest to manage, of course.”
She clarifies that these conversations have become less challenging over the years, “The license people give themselves to comment on a child’s body is ridiculous! People seem to police themselves better when talking to an adult, in general. It’s been decades since someone has idiotically tried to touch the top of my head. That was the worst.”
At the end of the day, conversations are bound to take place. Any woman who stands taller than the average man is unusual, of course, and height is a part of our identity. That said, don’t be a moron. Tall women hear about their height from everyone they meet. Try striking up a conversation about anything else – it’ll set you apart from all the other people who think our height is the obvious icebreaker.