Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of girls in young adult fiction are described as being really short. The authors also always seems to make a point of repeatedly mentioning how short they are.
I want to say that I don’t have a problem with this at all, but I do. Of course, authors are free to describe their characters however they like. And clearly, short people are people too. But, let’s face it, short girls are short which means they are below the average height. There are a lot more girls who are average height or taller than there are girls who are way below average height. That means that the preponderance of short girl main characters does not reflect the real world.
First some background. I’m a girl who’s five feet four and a half inches tall, which is slightly taller than the average height of an American woman (the average height is 63.8 inches), so while I’m not tall, I’m not short either. My mom is five feet one inch, my dad is five feet eight inches, and my fully grown little sister is four feet ten inches. Compared to the rest of my family, I’m pretty tall-no one else is even average height. I also normally look taller because I always wear combat boots with thick soles and they tend to add about an inch to my height.
Even though I do wear shoes that make me look taller, I’m insecure about my height. I grew up looking at my mom and my sister, who are both short with small bone structures, and I always wanted to look like them because that’s what looks normal and pretty to me. Also, since my entire family is below average height except me, I’ve gotten many stupid comments about how I’m so tall. I’ve literally been called freakishly tall several times. One time a guy was actually flirting with me by telling me that I’m so tall, so much taller than him, he didn’t know how I was so tall. When I tried to tell him that I was shorter than him he just repeated that I was so tall. I was actually several inches shorter than him. He also told me I’d look prettier without my acne, so obviously he’s just a jerk, BUT I’M GETTING AWAY FROM MY POINT.
Ever since I was ten, and was suddenly taller than my mom, people have felt the need to comment about how I’m so freakishly tall. It’s made me feel like being short is obviously more desirable and more attractive than being tall. Since I’m not short, I’m obviously less attractive and less desirable. Even though I don’t want to be valued only for my attractiveness, it would be really nice to not feel insecure just because I’m about an inch above average.
So, back to my point, when I read all these books about girls who are so tiny and so adorable because of their tininess, it makes me feel a little weird about my height. These short, fictional girls are always described as beautiful, and it seems like part of that beauty is in the fact that they are short.
There are sometimes taller characters who have wider shoulders, but they’re frequently villains or just horrible people. This does nothing to help tall girls or girls with wide shoulders who are insecure about it. I guess people think that maybe being tiny makes a character seem more innocent? Which is ridiculous, by the way. (Believe me, I live with short females. They can be a contrary and difficult lot.) And why not make a villain who is really short and has huge, round eyes and has everything that people stereotype as innocent? That way no one suspects them of being villains. Lots of animated movies pull this off to rave reviews, think Hoodwinked or The Secret Life of Pets.
Young adult books are basically body shaming girls for not being five feet tall and supermodel thin with a tiny bone structure. I kind of don’t want to say this because I feel like I’m being confrontational, but I think it needs to be said. There are so many girls reading these books yet so few have the body type that the majority of the main female characters have. There need to be characters with other body types because, if there’s just the one type, people who don’t have that type might start to feel insecure. I’m not blaming books for my insecurities (if I had to blame anything I would blame society’s stereotypes of beauty). I’m also not demanding that every description of a main character’s appearance be vague so that every girl can see herself in this person. It actually really irritates me when people do that. I just think it would be nice to have some characters who are an average height or maybe some female main characters who are even six feet tall because there are girls who are six feet tall. I don’t think I’ve read a single book with a female protagonist who’s that height, though.
The one book I can think of that doesn’t have exclusively short girls is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. In the book, Reagan was tall and had wide shoulders. She wasn’t the stereotypical supermodel thin that’s frequently seen in young adult books, either. Even though I didn’t love Fangirl, I really loved that it was mentioned that Reagan had that body type because that’s the same body type I have. She’s also described as being very attractive and desirable EVEN THOUGH she’s not short and thin with a tiny bone structure.
I don’t really have a conclusion for this because this was all written well after midnight while listening to Radiohead at an unhealthy volume while I was half awake. Going into this, I didn’t really have a goal or a point I was trying to make, I just wanted to talk about this. So… yeah. Short girls in young adult fiction. In the light of day, though, it strikes me that these days there is so much emphasis on books where the main character is going through some emotional situation, and there is an effort to make sure everyone has an emotional double in these books. Yet there are still physical stereotypes. We need better character development in young adult fiction, at least when it comes to physical descriptions.
On a side note, I googled what the most attractive height for a woman is and apparently a lot of guys say five feet six inches, so… yeah. Not five feet tall like young adult novels would have you believe. Just thought that was kind of interesting. I don’t think I’ll tell my family, though.
On another side note, I was doing some googling about average heights in different countries, and, according to the website I was looking at, my height would be totally normal if I lived in Ireland or England. Maybe if I move there I’ll stop feeling insecure.