Oct 9, 2003

The limits of average height.

When you're very short, you can choose to embrace or defy it. You can wear shoes and hats that make you look like a Munchkin. Or you can wear giant platforms and a mohawk of liberty spikes to give yourself added prestige. The same is true when you're very, very tall. You can stand erect and impose your full height on a room. Or you can slouch apologetically, trying to appear closer to the ground with each humble, hunkering nod.

But when you're just average height, you really can't rely on these data to shape your personality or your fashion sense. When you're average anything, this is the case. You can't be "the skinny chick" or "the fat chick." You can't be "that rich girl" or "the pauper." In the absence of superlatives, you leave others to describe you as something more relevant and pointed. You must become "the smart chick" or "the funny chick" or -- more commonly -- "the easy chick." You must scramble for your preceding adjective and hope that it isn't something that would make your parents ashamed or angry.

I think it's easier to be extraordinarily short or especially tall or mindbogglingly pale or disconcertingly thin. When you can't be summed up in such an adjective, your peers have to work harder to know what to think of you. They might even have to learn your actual name, for instance.

I've known people who allow their most-prominent features to become all there is. I've known short girls who go on so much about being short or who remind you of their shortness so frequently that you can be quite certain -- were science to find a painless and inexpensive way to overcome it -- they would avoid the remedy at all costs. Not so with Natalie Wood, who used the Pilates method and yoga to grow more than an inch in adulthood. She was apparently not happy being a mere five feet tall. But I also notice that I never heard her grouse about it.

And, really, I don't know what we would do without our complaints. I have my list of things I'm fine with. And my list of things I wish I could change. And the items on them switch places from time to time. I guess I'm happy that no one talks about how short I am or how tall. Or how fat or how ruddy. But at the same time I'm always a little bit disappointed to be described as "the Asian chick" or "the girl with the long, long hair." Aren't I more than these things? Couldn't I cut my hair and still be me? I hope so. I'm wanting to cut it, and I would hate to suddenly find that -- by cutting it -- I have managed to cause myself to cease to any longer exist.

And there's the additional point that so many of the people I really, really admire are just shadows in my brain. Artists whose faces I have never seen. Musicians who have never made videos. Authors who've never managed to stand out to me as anything more than a guy with glasses. I envy them their talents. I envy them the basis of their fame. To be known by one's work must be something especially marvelous. To be known by one's name and not one's face. I remember making a sort of value judgment about that in my adolescence. I never had any desire to be physically famous. I just wanted to be accomplished. And I didn't so much mind the idea of someone knowing my name without ever knowing how to find me. These days, on the rare but still jarringly surprising occasions when I am recognized out in the world, I realize that I can't very well eschew the recognition. All these pictures of me aren't finding their way online by magic, after all. I admit that with only the tiniest amount of shame. But if the Internet were to suddenly go all text-based, I would hope that my work might still live. That I might end up doing something that would cause a stranger to wonder about me. To be curious about my life in the way I am curious about those I admire. I buy books about artists because I want to know how they got that way. I want to find them out. I want to trace their footsteps. Maybe dance through them for a moment or two. I want to trip the light vicarious, maybe. I want to channel them. Assume them. Become them. Knowing that all of that will inevitably mingle with what already lives here. Knowing that it will create something entirely other, no matter how much of the same it absorbs.

I keep striving. But the act of striving seems so much like flailing. The act of defining becomes the act of deconstructing. Tracing the edges ends up blurring them after a while. Until they become so soft that you can't touch them without bursting through them. So you keep your hands to yourself.

posted by Mary Forrest at 5:15 PM | Back to Monoblog


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