“I am not my tininess”

Project Description:

“Why don’t you wear more heels?” my mother asks me, “It’ll make you taller.”

At 4’11” (I round up from 4’10.75”), the vast majority of the time, I am the shortest person in the room. I can never reach the top shelf anywhere: not at the store, not at work, not even in my own house. I have to roll up my pants to make them fit, and without a tailor, I can never wear long dresses.

Growing up, my height was the number one thing I wanted the change about myself. I hated myself for being short. When I was in 6th grade, a classmate sat me down and stood a glue stick on her desk. “Mykhanh,” she said, pointing to the glue, “this is your self-confidence.” She knocked it down. “You need to get some more!” This was easier said than done; I would compare myself to everyone else, and all I could see was that everyone else had to look down at me. I felt that I literally could not measure up. It didn’t help matters that the only thing others seemed to notice about me was also my height. People would always, always comment on how short I was. “Wow, you’re short!” and “Why are you so short?” were more often than not the first thing another kid would say to me after we had just met. My friends would literally overlook me or physically pick me up because they were bigger. They would say things like “I love how short you are; you make a really good armrest!” or “Mykhanh, I love standing next to you; it’s the only time I ever get to be the taller one!” I would always laugh these comments off, but it was completely demoralizing.

With a lot of work and time, my confidence grew, even if I physically didn’t. However, I sometimes wonder how much of this self-assured, enthusiastic woman I’ve become started out as me feeling the need to overcompensate for my height: my big personality could fill the room even if my smaller body would leave me unnoticed. As I begin to step up as a leader in my community and enter the professional, grown-up world, I sometimes panic that I will not be respected at first glance, as I am often mistaken for a high-school teenager. How will people take me seriously if I still can’t buy a ticket to an R-rated movie without being carded? Will I ever outgrow being “little and cute”? When someone asks, “How tall are you, exactly?” will I ever answer without that slight bit of embarrassment? But even though these insecurities will never go away completely, I have learned to accept and love how I am and who I am. When I wear heels nowadays, it’s because I like the shoes and not just that they boost me up a few inches.