Thursday, September 8, 2011

The tall-short debate

There are quite a number of contexts in which the word "small" carries a pleasant sense in the English language.  We are happy about smallness when we say, "Small is beautiful."  I don't think anyone wants to hear a long talk or read a lengthy piece of writing; shortness is a virtue here also.  We don't require the authority of a Shakespeare to realize that "brevity is the soul of wit"; it is common knowledge.  Again, when we say, "It's a small world", we express a pleasant feeling -- a feeling of wonder or surprise.  Even when we say, "A little bird told me", the feeling we express is an agreeable one.  In fairy stories, the fairies and elves, which endear themselves to children, are described as "the little people".  Even a person's conscience is not big: it is only described as "the still small voice"! 

But, smallness is not agreeable when it comes to a person's body size.  Here, small or short is not beautiful; tallness is invariably the preferred size.  No one says to a short girl, "What a nice shortie you are!"  A girl who is tall enough is eligible -- for marriage, more than anything else.  Recently, in a neighbour's family, a short girl had been rejected by a young man who had come to see her, and the girl's parents had difficulty telling their daughter the reason for the rejection.  "He feels he is too tall for you", was what they finally managed to say. 

If you think that the preference for tallness came with civilization, you are wrong. Even in primitive societies, tallness is the preferred stature. A study by Thomas Gregor, an anthropologist, has revealed that tallness is considered attractive by the Nehinaku tribals of Central Brazil and the Tobriand Islanders of the Pacific.

Do many people think that tall people are healthier and better-looking?  Are they considered more capable, too?  Yes.  The subjects of a survey conducted in some American universities have said that, in their estimate, short people were less capable, less positive, and timid.  But I know quite a few people who are only as short as Napoleon and as capable.  We must also remember the fact that the study I have referred to was only an opinion survey.

What's the long and the short of this debate?  Well, people who are neither tall nor short strike a balance: they represent the golden mean.

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