Years ago, a friend of mine said that the hero of a Mills & Boon romance was always the tallest, richest man in the room—and she was usually right. (Usually he had dark hair and a lot of arrogance, but those are different blogs.)
Society’s bias toward height is pretty blatant, especially for men. Twice in the last week, I’ve seen articles on height, both apparently inspired by a study out of Princeton that says that tall people not only earn more money, but they’re smarter, too, and presumably deserve higher salaries. (A 2004 study showed that each additional inch of height amounts to a salary increase of about $789/year for men.)
I’m willing to concede that taller men may earn more, but taller people more intelligent? As a somewhat vertically challenged person myself, I have a vested interest in not believing that taller people are generally smarter! (But it’s interesting to see how Lincoln, who may have had Marfan’s Syndrome, which give lanky height, towers over his generals in this photo.)
But there is some natural basis for such a claim, quite apart from the intelligence tests the Princeton study is talking about. A better nourished infant is going to grow better both physically and mentally, so a child who never gets enough food is at a disadvantage compared to one who is well-fed. In the middle ages, this would translate to tall, lordly (well-nourished) aristocrats and puny peasants.
Also, in the more violent past, a large guy who fought well probably looked like a natural leader. Bullying = dominance. A woman who hooked up with the biggest warrior around might be better protected than the woman who paired off with the short guy. So I suppose that there are grounds for the romance hero who is always soooooo tall. But I don’t have to like it.
In BLINK, Malcolm Gladwell talks about “the Warren Harding Effect”—that is, Harding became president largely because he looked so presidential. That didn’t make him a distinguished president, though! Given me brains and character over mere height any day.
Size is often used an insult. “You little slimeball.” Or a disparagement. “She has a nice little figure” or “she’s just the sweetest little thing.” Those latter don’t sound much like compliments, do they?
Our culture talks about a “Napoleon complex” to mean a small man with grandiosity issues. In fact, the evidence suggests that Napoleon was slightly above average size for a Frenchman of his time—about 5’6”. He was called “the little corporal” as a term of affection, because of his easy manner with common soldiers. Hence he has gone into history as an egotistical short guy when he was merely an egotistical tyrant. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon )
I have a pet peeve with all the cliché descriptions of the woman whose head barely reaches the man’s shoulder. That’s pretty rare in the real world, actually, and when it occurs, the couple tend to look a little unnatural—more like a little girl being taken for a walk by her father than like partners. These days in America, the average height for men is 5’ 9” and for women is 5’ 4”, a difference of 5”. If a woman’s head comes only to a man’s shoulder, the difference is more like 15”—pretty substantial.
Take a look at Will Smith and Jada Pinkett. She was considered and rejected for the role of his girlfriend in his tv series because the producers thought she was too short and the couple looked odd together. So she didn’t get the roll of girl friend, but Will Smith felt differently and chose her for the real world role of wife. <g>
I get bored with romance heroes who are always tall, though I’ve certainly written a fair number myself. But my heroes may also be average height, and some have been on the lean and lithe side. A cat burglar has a physical appeal that is different from a football player, but that can be just as compelling. Maybe more so, depending on one’s tastes.
Of course, in fiction a lot of this does come down to taste, so tall heroes will probably always predominate. And not just in books, but movies. A lot of Hollywood leading men aren’t that tall, but if film magic can make an average actor look like a hobbit, it can do the reverse. I recall reading that Alan Ladd (5’6”) once made a movie with Sophie Loren (5’ 8”), so the producers dug a trench for her to walk in as they strolled side by side. That way Ladd could look tall and manly. <g>
This still goes on—when Prince Charles became engaged to Lady Diana, who was about his height, I recall that the official portrait of the two of them was arranged so he looked half a head taller. Say what you will about Tom Cruise, but at least he seems okay with marrying women who loom over him.
Height is less of an issue for women. Tall and statuesque is good, but so is petite and pretty. Some of my petite friends get exasperated when they are considered cute rather than authoritative, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said that a woman had a Napoleon complex. As an interesting aside, one of the height articles I read said that the ideal height for a male model is 6’—and for a female model, it’s 5’11”. So female models have to unusually tall as well as unusually thin. One more example of the fact that life isn’t fair. <g>
Physical attraction is to some extent hardwired into us individually, so I don’t expect to change anyone’s preference. Personally, I’ve dated tall guys and short guys and those in the middle. The one thing they have in common is intelligence, kindness, integrity, and a sense of humor. (And tolerance, which they need to hang out with a writer!) Who needs height when a guy has so many great traits?
Mary Jo, who likes the guys who make her laugh–and who laugh at her jokes, too.