Rant: Stop telling petites how to look “long and lean”

It never fails: Every single article, blog, vlog, or style recommendation will start off the same way: “7 secrets to look longer and leaner.”

Okay, I’m exaggerating. They don’t all start quite the same way. Sometimes there aren’t 7 secrets. Sometimes there are 6, or 10. But you get the idea.

Imagine if we spoke to everyone this way

If you can’t see the problem with the above statement, consider how it would sound if you gave similar advice to people based on other physical characteristics:

For tall women: “7 secrets to look shorter.”

For blonde women: “7 secrets to look more brunette.”

For busty women: “7 secrets to look flatter-chested.”

For women of colour: “7 secrets to look whiter”.

(If you cringed at that last one, trust me, so did I. But unfortunately this is still the advice that is typically given in so much mass media, especially in parts of southern and southeast Asia where ‘whitening’ products are still commonly found in cosmetics. But that’s a rant for another day.)

Petiteness isn’t a flaw

The point is, none of those headlines make sense, because none of those things are flaws. Being tall, having blonde hair, having a generous bustline, or having the skin tone you were born with? All of those are perfectly awesome characteristics that make you who you are. They should be celebrated and flaunted, or at least treated as normal. They don’t need to be “corrected”.

Well, same with being petite. There is literally nothing wrong with being shorter in stature. Heck, HALF of all women in North America under 5’4″. Suggesting that there’s something wrong with all of us is just absurd.

An arbitrary standard of beauty

After all, isn’t our collective standard of beauty completely arbitrary? It changes according to societal and media norms, and what people get used to seeing and hearing. Studies and polls have shown that a majority of straight men prefer to date shorter women. There are short celebrities who are fashion and beauty icons.

So why does the fashion world say otherwise? They have set up a completely arbitrary standard of female beauty — rail-thin, leggy, broad shoulders, narrow hips, small bust — and yes, of course, tall. Fashion models under 5’10” are the exception, not the rule. While in general, women over 5’10” are likewise the exception, not the rule.

There are many theories about this. Some hypothesize that the fashion industry has a financial interest in keeping women insecure and perpetually dissatisfied (and therefore more likely to buy more stuff to make themselves feel better). So setting up an impossible beauty standard is done on purpose — after all, people  can change a lot of things about their bodies, but rarely their height. Other theories hypothesize that the overrepresentation of gay men in the fashion design world for decades led to a female beauty ideal that most closely resembled an androgynous-looking male body.

The point is, it’s completely arbitrary. We believe that tallness equals beauty because the media has spent many decades telling us so. But, as the backlash against super-skinny supermodels and the embracing of plus sized models of late has shown us, these arbitrary standards can evolve and change.

Lady GaGa, Kylie Minogue, Ariana Grande, Salma Hayek, Kristen Bell, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Anna Kendrick, Eva Longoria, Lucy Liu, Shakira, Reese Witherspoon, and Ellen Page. Most of the world would agree that all of them are beautiful women. None of them stand above 5’3″.

So why do we keep telling petite women that they need to correct their shortness in order to be beautiful?

Short isn’t a dirty word

Heck, even the existence of the word “petite” is a confusing way to avoid saying “short”. It’s implying there’s something wrong with the word “short”. Which is absurd. You wouldn’t think that it’s insulting to call a woman “tall” to her face. So why do we consider “short” a bad word?

We’re not broken. You don’t need to fix us.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with being tall. But we’ve spent so long idealizing tallness — and, consequently, shaming shortness — that some of us have begun to internalize it.


Embracing your petiteness

So rather than telling short women that they should dress to look taller, why don’t we focus on encouraging everyone to dress in a way that makes them feel confident and sexy and beautiful at any height. And to play up our petiteness in how we dress and interact with the world.

There’s nothing wrong with rocking the high heels or balancing proportions through vertical lines if that’s your thing. Some of the fashion tips offered to petites on how to flatter our bodies are fine. I’ve shared a number of them myself on this blog. This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with wanting to look as good as possible.

But we need to stop thinking of our height as something to be fixed, and start thinking of it as something to be embraced. And then rock your style at ANY height.

After all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being short. So quit telling us that there is.


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