I‘ve had so many emails over the past few months from tall women asking where to find trousers, where to buy larger shoes or where to buy skirts that don’t make them look like strippers on a night out (because skirts are so short on those with long legs)! I even had one email yesterday from a reader who wanted to know where all the tall men in London were hiding.
If you read Fashion Foie Gras often you will know that I, Emily Johnston, am 6’1. This is tall and I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my height for my entire life. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I fell in love with the advantages of being a tall individual. It’s very tough being tall as a kid because you are different, and we all know how kids can be with anyone that is at all different.
So there is a sort of unspoken bond between those who suffer in life and for us tall people we have a bond in not being able to fit in airline seats with our long gorgeous legs, not being able to find 36 inch inseam trousers or always being the centre of attention on the days when you would least like to be (like when you need to run out of the house looking a total mess and hoping no one will see you).
Last March I was sitting in LAX with a huge pile of magazines waiting for my flight to London to board. I was flipping through the pages of Vogue when I flipped onto the article I felt like I had been waiting to read in since I first picked up the magazine in 1988…..”A View from the top: From schoolyard taunts to dating a man of the tallest order, Arianne Cohen chronicles life from on high.” Of course my first reaction was…”wait a second, I wanted that to be me in the article…” but then I was just beaming from head to toe as I read about Arianne and saw so much of myself in her writing. She was writing what all of us would have written had we been given the chance. She was honest and witty and I think I must have emailed a hundred people before boarding the flight to tell them to go out and buy the April 2009 Vogue to read this particular piece about a gorgeous 6’3 brunette!
It was with great excitement that I discovered, just last month sadly, that Arianne Cohen had published a book last year! It’s called the TALL Book. If you know anyone that is tall, going to be tall, marrying tall or just wants to understand a tall person….buy them this book!
I couldn’t stop with just buying the book. I had to put myself out on a limb and try to see if Arianne would give FFG an interview! And because she is just so absolutely lovely, she agreed. Here are the highlights, and also make sure and read through to the bottom where she has given us an excerpt from the book for you to read! Trust me, you will be hooked immediately!
Was there a point in your life that you can remember, or pinpoint, when you knew that you were different from the rest of the pack?
A: Sometimes I think that elementary school exists to extenuate all height differences. I was always caboose in line, I didn’t fit in the desk chairs, and I couldn’t hear what all the girls were gossiping about. So, while I’ve always known that I’m tall–I towered over everyone from the very beginning–it became a much larger issue when I entered first grade.
If you could say something to your thirteen year old self now what would it be?
A: Whenever kids say something about your height, it really has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with how they feel about your height. Which is not your problem. In most cases, they’re just uncomfortable with themselves. Remember that.
My mom was 6 feet growing up in the sixties and this was abnormal for the time so it was nice to have a woman in my life that could understand all of the social pressures of being different. Didyou have a similar role model?
A: I find that children who grow up with a great tall role model are much more comfortable as tall, happy adults. I unfortunately didn’t have anyone in my life who was particularly thrilled about being tall (my mother is a fantastic mom, and also very honest–she openly wishes she could be 5’5″), and I think much of my motivation for writing The Tall Book was to really understand height, and allow my book to serve as the role model for kids who don’t have one.
When did you realize, “hey, this tall thing isn’t so bad?”
A: The day I sold my book.
How did it feel getting asked by Vogue to be in a feature in the magazine?
A: I was thrilled to give attention to the plight of tall women finding clothes! The only tall women’s chain store in America (Tall Girl Shop) just closed, and now a fantastic, hip British company called Long Tall Sally is coming to America (currently online at longtallsally.com), and they need tall women’s support. It’s baffling to me that the petites market is thriving while the tall market is barely there, and I think that tall women really need to stop accepting clothes that “almost” fit, and insist on real fitting clothes, and support the companies that make them affordably.
What are some other highlights in attention from the media you have experienced lately?
A: The Martha Stewart Show’s “all-tall” show, featuring an entire audience over six foot, and a whole hour devoted to the show! (Check this out from a post we did earlier on the Martha Stewart show on FFG)
What’s your take on dating men shorter than you? Is that something you would ever do or are you planning on sticking to the taller men out there?
A: I truly believe that tall women shoot themselves in the foot by not looking down from time to time. By dating men that are, say, 5’11” and over versus 6’3′ and up, I am enlargening my dating pool from 3.9% to 40%. That’s a huge difference. Though I definitely still date relatively tall men, I’ve been quite happy with multiple partners a little shorter than me.
You could say that this book began at the Bethlehem Public Library in 1989, when I discovered that no library in the universe carried a book about tall people.
This was a devastating blow to a 5’3” eight year-old. Up until that day, the stacks had cleared up a host of childhood confusion about birds and bees and bases, particularly the Dictionary of Slang, which I consulted regularly. I had great faith in the library.
But that afternoon, I had a more important concern. A morning visit to the pediatrician had prompted him to add another dot on my growth chart, and announce, “You’re gonna be taller than the president!” That would be Ronald Regan, 6’1”. I just nodded. Of course I would be taller than the president. That’s totally normal.
For the rest of the day, the line bounced around my head, accompanied by a freakish image of me towering over Ronald Regan and his petit wife Nancy, roughly the size of my then-right thigh, while I endured a typical school afternoon of standing at the back of the line and responding to the name Amazon Ari.
As soon as the bell rang, I trotted myself over to the card catalog to investigate this tall thing. The subject cards skipped from talkov–igor to tall buildings. The Dewey Decimal index didn’t even assign a classification number to tall people. Surely the world kidded.
I alerted the reference librarian that a pivotal subject card had fallen out of the card catalog. She waddled over, and examined the situation through her bifocals. “Dear, I don’t think that’s a topic that authors write non-fiction books about. But we do have a few books about short height. Would you like to see those?” No, thanks. “What about Sarah Plain and Tall, dear. Have you read that novel?” Yes. And Sarah’s not particularly tall.
Igor Talkov, by the way, is a Soviet rock ‘n roll artist with a political bent. And the world’s tallest building was the Chicago’s Sears Tower.
When there’s not a book about your topic, it’s like your whole issue doesn’t exist. My concerns were deflated, automatically relegated to a topic of no particular importance, which made me feel dumb. I was left to scrounge for information from what I heard around me. My mother’s thoughts on the matter were that I was “a tall glass of water,” and that “it’s what’s on the inside that matters.” Meanwhile, my classmates spent all their time telling me how freaking tall I was, as dutifully noted by five million inquiries of, “How’s the weather up there?” Mixed messaging.
So for the next two decades, I decided to drink the Kool Aid, and tell myself that it’s what’s on the inside that matters. I assured my mind that being tall was just another trait, like the texture of my hair (frizzy) and the color of my skin (ashen), an inconsequential exterior beyond my control. I thought about it often, but then told myself that I had more important things to think about. My height was the elephant in the room. Telling yourself not to think about the elephant is not a good long-term strategy.
I graduated into adult world, and my inner monologue often went something like this: Wow, I feel really awkward towering over my short friend/boyfriend/boss….
Why did everyone in the restaurant turnaround and look at me when I walked in? Is my fly open?…Arianne, they stare at everyone. And on and on, silently in my head, for twenty-seven years. This is why tall people are a quirky bunch.
And then, in 2005, my book agent spoke those magical words: “Is there anything you’d like to write a book about?” Well, actually, now that you mention it.
Early in my research, I attended the annual European Tall Club convention. I had come across tall clubs a few years earlier, and thought, “Don’t these people have anything better to do?” But obviously it’s an important piece of identity, because there I was, traveling to Europe to meet tall folk.
Only in this room full of tall people did it become apparent that height is really important. We talked about how height was the most defining force in our lives, and how in my case, it determined my choice of sports (swimming) and boyfriends (tall), my social circle (tall), my college (tall), and my personality (big enough to fill all the tall).
There’s a lot, I learned, going on in tall world: Talls annually earn $789 more per inch than our average-height counterparts, racking up $1.5 million in extra assets over 40 years. We are smarter, safer and more powerful than our neighbors, and we live longer than them too. We are also evolutionarily favored, rarely victims of crime, and excel in professional, academic and athletic arenas. We are the CEOs, presidents, and captains of industry, leaders who control the majority of the world’s wealth and fill up the enrollment registers at top universities. In summary, we’re wonderful, successful and fun. Remember, the root of Amazon is the same as amazing.
Being tall, I learned, has meaning far beyond just seeing over people’s heads. We share the balancing act of being the chosen people, yet live in a society that is not built for us. How many times have you thought: “I am a nice friendly tall person who follows the law and pays taxes. Why can’t I fit into a bus seat?” It’s a ripe paradox.
I was floored by all these details, which create a firm cultural context for tallness. Whoah, I thought. There’s a tall culture. Seven days living within that world changes your life. It reaffirmed all the weird thoughts I’d had in my head for twenty years. I became an unabashed tall person. My inner monologue became empowered: Short friend/boyfriend/boss, stop making me feel physically uncomfortable! The elephant took its last breaths.
This project began because ever since the library let me down, I had some pressing questions. I wanted to know why tall people are 12% smarter (Chapter 2), and how come tall men are the most sexually successful group on the planet (Chapter 13), and who the hell is behind those airline seats (Chapter 16). And I wanted to talk about the sixty-year secret history of the pharmaceutical stunting of tall children, which is ongoing (Chapter 11), and the little-known story of the tallest women in the world (Chapter 5).
I found lots of people who wanted to talk tall: athletic coaches, clothing executives, furniture designers, non-verbal communication experts, psychoanalysts, economists, evolutionary scientists, tall lobbyists, America’s top tall dominatrix, and the guy who orders Manhattan bus seats. And a remarkably friendly social circuit of talls from Brooklyn to Beijing, who tossed me up to the world’s tip toppers: America’s tallest woman, the world’s tallest comedian, the WNBA’s tallest player. At the top, everyone sort of knows each other, and their perspective on tall life is fine-tuned. My tall book was alive and well in their heads, a fully formed cultural context. I just needed to go collect it.
This book is a backbone of tall life, a synthesis of the vast knowledge tucked away in high-up corners around the world.
A 6’6″ Dutch woman told me about her first visit to a tall club. “It really changed something in me. It gave me the knowledge that I’m not alone, and that I have tall sisters all over the world. And I think it gave me something in my back. Spine.” Tall spine. That’s what I hope to develop in this book.