A pink-haired girl walks into a public restroom at a grocery store. She has one goal in mind: go to the bathroom and continue her shopping. A woman reaches out to grab her arm and stops her halfway to the stall. She looks down and sees the woman looking up at her in awe. The woman shouts over the sound of the sink, “I’m sorry, but I just have to ask. How tall are you?”
The girl sighs, “Six foot two,” and slowly tries to make a break for the nearest stall.
The woman squeezes her arm, “Oh my! Do you play basketball?”
“Nope, I’m not athletic.” The girl looks at herself in the mirror; half of her head is shaved and she’s wearing a leather jacket adorned with buttons of her favorite punk bands. She slowly tries to break her arm out of the woman’s grasp.
“No you must play! Maybe volleyball?” The woman looks into her eyes with a noticeable hope.
“Sorry, no. I’ve never really been athletic.” The girl finally breaks away and takes one last look at the disappointment in the woman’s eyes before heading into the stall.
This describes a far too common occurrence in my daily life. I am a 6’2” female whose only athletic aspirations are to be healthy and happy. My pastimes include reading comic books, watching movies, and painting. But my height gives the world a single story about who I am from merely glancing at me in a public place. My height, my body, is not who I am. I am all my pastimes, my passions, and my family, but people’s expectations about my height take this away in favor of what they can simply see, which is that I’m really tall.
Experiences like this one shaped me and changed my path in more ways than I would like to admitX. After years of pressure from adults in my life, I did try to play basketball in junior high school. It was an embarrassing time, not far off from a scene straight out of a Mr. Bean movie. I was hated by many of my teammates, who could not believe I had got on the team from my height alone. We soon found things we had in common, which did not include basketball, and I became a happily benched cheerleader for my friends on the team. I never played basketball again, and I believe they were all secretly thankful. I continued my search for ways to express myself and try to distance myself from people’s single story of me. I discovered my love for art, including painting, photography, and film. I experimented with hair dye, and have sported all the colors under the sun, hoping to sway people away from my one obvious attribute, height. Although, I must admit that the idea of a pink-haired basketball player does give me great joy.
I know that my body is not the only one that gets noticed and given a single story. I once met a man that worked at a grocery store who was 7’2”. Every day that he worked, he wore a tee shirt that said, “I’m 7’2”, yes, really,” on the front and back. He had the shirt made to avoid the daily question, “How tall are you?” Sadly, this is the only conversation he would have with people during an eight-hour shift if he didn’t wear the shirt. Questions like these are constant reminders of how he is different and his body is not considered normal according to traditional societal standards. There are people of all different shapes and sizes on this earth, and yet for some reason, the overwhelming media standard for health and wellness says there is only one way to look beautiful and, more importantly, one way to look healthy. The media shows us skinny, beautiful, and blemish-free people on the cover of magazines, in advertisements, and in television shows and movies. But when you go out in the world, it’s obvious that there isn’t one type of person. We all have a different “normal”: one person’s might be a size two, where another’s is a size fourteen, but that doesn’t mean that either of these bodies is unhealthy. One of my good family friends is a beautiful pear-shaped woman weighing about 300lbs. She rides her bike up hills, eats a very healthy paleo diet, and could out-bike me any day. Sadly, when people look at her they tell a single story: that she is fat and therefore must be unhealthy. She is not unhealthy; she’s just not what the magazines show us as healthy.
When we assume a detail about someone by looks alone and let it define him or her, we are taking away what makes that person special and we are taking away the truth. The pressure to fit into these categories of “healthy” and “normal” has affected many women and men. These expectations create low self-esteem, eating disorders, and unachievable goals and the truth is, we simply can’t all look the same. Healthy can look so many different ways, and what’s so great about humans is that we are all so different. I personally don’t want to live in a world where everyone who is tall is a basketball player, or where everyone who is fat is unhealthy. I want to live in a world where differences are celebrated and assumptions aren’t made based on a person’s height and weight.
Growing up tall has taught me to value these differences. It has taught me to ask questions and learn more about people and what makes them special, rather than what I can simply see. It has taught me to appreciate everyone’s experiences and points of view. I’m here to announce that healthy does not look one way, it looks hundreds of different ways. We can be tall, fat, skinny, chubby, and short. Accepting these differences creates a healthy and beautifully diverse community where we can all thrive and feel comfortable in our skin, because our bodies are only placeholders for what’s inside, and what really .