One thing that struck me last night, watching Julie & Julia, was the way the filmmakers managed to communicate or recreate Julia Child’s height. I’m only a half-inch shorter than she was, so seeing representations of women my height or taller is a rather two-sided coin: I’m both fascinated and reminded of how awkward it is to be a bigger person in a world that prefers its women to be smaller than men.
And even that is a mixed message. Women wear high heels to appear to have more height. Tall women are told they could be models, are idealized as being graceful, statuesque, or willowy. I don’t know if it’s just me, but watching a naturally tall woman, though, posing next to her average-sized friends or dancing with a physically smaller partner borders on the comedic, or the sad. It’s my own prejudice against individuals like myself. I have days when I like and enjoy my tallness, and others when it just feels like there is too much of me to haul around the Earth.
That’s where my husband comes in. Like Chummy Noakes (Miranda Hart) tells her (then-future) husband in Call the Midwife (2012-2015), he makes me feel small. Normal. As in, not a giant or a tower or a beanstalk or a stepladder. Even when I have to slouch to rest my head on his shoulder, I don’t often notice the height difference between us. It’s not much — he’s 5’9″ to my 6’1.5″ — but when you are raised in a society that focuses on the feminine as small and soft (a double-standard considering the other focus on tall as an ideal of beauty), it’s enough of a difference to be felt. I wore flats when we got married. He grins when he’s got his thick-soled winter boots on and I’m in sock feet, because that raises him to eye-level with me.
So I’m watching the wedding scene in Julie & Julia, where Julia Child’s sister Dorothy (played by Jane Linch) marries a man who is much shorter than she, and like many individuals who are a minority something, wishing that it wasn’t so abnormal to see myself represented in the media. It would just be . . . comforting. I mean, I’m the same height as Miranda Hart. A bit taller than Geena Davis and Jane Lynch. But they’re not often portrayed in a way that reveals their height. And as I’ve gotten older, my body type has passed from the late 20th-century / early 21st century ideal to a more Rubenesque shape. And frankly, having observed other tall women both in my workplace and in the media, it’s the latter form which is more common, just as it is with average-sized women. But I think that the curviness of the tall woman is more noticeable because it is right there, proportionally larger in many ways. We stand out in a crowd for horizontal as well as vertical reasons.
Maybe it’s just my own sensitivity, especially to images that are meant to highlight physical differences. After all, when I’m talking to someone or walking down a hallway or street, I don’t often think about how I’m head and shoulders above the crowd most of the time. But it happens when I need to use a public restroom — those doors, meant for privacy, are typically little match for my stature, so I’ve learned well how to slouch into and out of them — and when I catch a glimpse of my reflection. I find it difficult to keep my shoulders back and my spine straight, because it’s easier for me to connect with others when I’m leaning down or to the side. I’ve been mistaken for a man now and again, when wearing unisex clothing.
What brings all of this up, though — because I think I’ve written a blog post about being tall before — is Julie & Julia, as well as Call the Midwife, showing tall women in a rather natural state rather than idealized as models. As much as it makes me think how silly we must look to others, comically enlarged and therefore unfeminine (is that why tall women who are models tend to be stick-thin? To make them look proportionally smaller, and therefore more feminine? Less threatening to the masculine ideal, because they are not as solid in appearance?), it’s rather comforting to see women like me in fiction, women who are based on real individuals who led happy and productive and successful lives in spite of — or because of — their height.
And I’ve been thinking about this again because I found two new tall-women clothing stores online, and I’m kind of dismayed at the models they’ve chosen to showcase their wares. They’re just too thin. How can I judge whether the shirts and slacks will look the way I want them to, when I want to dress professionally, if they’re being modelled by women who are so thin? I know there are some tall women out there who are, quite naturally, that body type, for I used to be one of them in my teens and some of my 20s. But for my current age and figure, I’m more likely to shop online or physically with those who are showing the bodies like mine. Method Boutique, for example, is very good for that. Long Tall Sally isn’t bad, either.
I’m not the tallest of the tall women. I think that two of my female colleagues are taller than me by a fraction, and from the measurements I’ve seen online as well as family experience (shout-out to my cousin Brittany, if you’re reading this), there are women out there who are well bigger than I am. And let’s add in the transgendered women, whose height was granted by testosterone before their transitions. And the transsexuals, who may be more comfortable in women’s clothing but struggle just as much as those of us born with boobs and other lady parts in finding good looks that fit properly and don’t make us feel like hippos wriggling into tights. I wish that our physical difference didn’t inspire shoe makers and clothing manufacturers to increase the cost of their goods so much, or that we weren’t prohibited from certain designs because the companies couldn’t be bothered to enlarge the shoe or whatever by that much more. It’s lucky that Julia Child and her sister came from a wealthy family, because they would not have been able to find much in the way of ready-made clothing. I know from personal experience that it’s still the case today.
So why do I frequently misjudge my own size? I pick up a shirt at Giant Tiger, thinking that it will fit me because it’s a Large or an X-L, forgetting that I’m even bigger than that now and no amount of dieting or lifestyle change is really going to alter what time, hormones, and children have done for my body. I say for, not to, because in spite of my crankiness, I do like my bod. My husband thinks I’m sexy, and with the right clothes, I feel pretty damned good. It’s the finding of the clothes that’s the problem!
So Julie & Julia — Child and her sister can afford to have stylish clothing custom-made, proportioned and tailored to look the way they want. Call the Midwife — Chummy can make her own clothing, and indeed is forced to whip up her own smart uniform when the ones provided by the clinic prove to be too small. My mum is wonderful, making me slacks and coats and tops, but those pieces often end up needing altering (sorry, Mom) because the patterns she’s using aren’t suited to tall bodies and she’s trying her best to make the round peg suit the rectangular hole. Maybe this is really the bone of my contention. No wonder I prefer fiction over real life — in fiction, solutions are so much easier to come by.
Oh, so much more I could say, but I’ve been in bed for most of the day with this damned chest cold. (Beds — another grumpiness for those of us 6′ plus.) Not sure if this has been a rant or an essay. I’ll finish off by saying this: Don’t stereotype the tall people. And I love and adore my husband for loving my height and my curves. I need to give myself more time for sewing my own clothing (and learning how to do it right).
And watch those shows I mentioned — Call the Midwife, and Julie & Julia. If not for the great depictions of big women, for the excellent stories and characters as well. Highly worth it.