As a (bisexual) child, my first two crushes were short king Marty McFly and Xena: hot Warrior Princess. I didn’t realise yet the foundation that was being laid for a lifetime of worshipping strong brunette women and pocket-sized men. But, as I got older, the hints were all there: Jason Schwartzman, Charlie Day, Zac Efron, Oscar Isaac. A parade of veritable manlets occupy my heart, along with anomalies like 6’2” Tyler, the Creator. I never thought much of it, but as I got older, I realised I am an outlier. People, particularly women, who date men, often covet tall men, with “over 6ft” being a prerequisite to ride. Short men have a tougher time dating, struggling to find women who don’t mind their height, let alone love it.
I’m lucky. I found my 5’5” king a couple of years ago, and we’ve been sharing clothes ever since. But for people who not only don’t mind short kings but actively pursue dating them, it can be hard to know where to look. Men often conceal their height on dating apps, leading women to feel “heightfished” when someone with a tall face is actually 5’6”. A new app, Short King Dating, by short man clothing brand Ash & Erie, promises a safe space for both short kings and the people who love them: “‘tall, dark, and handsome’ is outdated, and kings are in short supply. Don't let height get in the way of true love,” their website reads.
While the app is LGBTQ+ friendly, the height issue is one that disproportionately comes into play for straight women dating men. Dating coach Rachel New tells me that among her clients, older, more conventional straight women tend to consider tallness an essential, while LGBTQ+ people and younger women are more open minded. She believes both evolutionary and cultural programming come into play. “The evolutionary account says height is a proxy for good reproductive success, while the cultural says we have been programmed by society and the media to associate height with competence, success, attractiveness, and likability,” she explains.
Harry, 24, is 5’6” and has dated only a couple of women. He believes that his height is a barrier. “I have had girls tell me unsolicited that they would date me if I was taller. I had one girl even tell me that I looked like Gollum’s better looking brother,” while these comments make him laugh now, they stung at the time. He does, however, think that his lack of luck is also down to his own insecurities. “It was a confidence issue built around my insecurities from being small and assuming the girl wasn't interested for those reasons,” he adds, “you realise at a fairly young age that there is a mould for what conventionally attractive people look like and to some extent you do not fit it. I think for a while I was very hung up on that.”
While it makes sense from a dating standpoint to not rule someone out based on something as arbitrary (and unchangeable) as their height, what about the women who actively pursue shorter men – the target audience for Short King Dating? Ashley, 26, says that she and her sisters all date short men. “Personally I don’t really notice a guy’s height if he has BDE. Also I feel like a lot of short guys try to compensate by being really fit which I care about way more than height,” she says, adding that in her experience, short guys are better in bed. “Tall guys can be kinda like guys with big dicks in that they think their measurements are enough and they don’t have to offer anything else,” she adds.
Amy, 27, exclusively dates short kings and queens. She backs up my belief that this is likely more of an issue for straight women than for people of other sexualities and genders. “The first person I ever loved was only an inch taller than me, and I think that just cemented a type,” she says. “I always feel safer and more secure with a guy or girl who's my height. You feel like more of a team,” she adds. She feels strongly that excluding men based on height is rooted in heteronormative ideas. “Obviously everyone is entitled to a type, but ruling someone out on height from an aesthetic standpoint is embarrassing,” she says, “I used to work with a woman who refused to date under 6’2”. She said she wanted to date a man not a child, which is absolutely ridiculous,” she adds.
Scout, 28, believes that her preference comes from loving “the small emo boy vibe” that she romanticised in high school. She goes as far as to put on her dating profiles that she’s only looking for short dudes. “I’m not sure if I have ever found a taller person to be attractive. With online dating and social media being a form of meeting people, there have been times where I’ve found someone attractive until finding out they were tall, then the attraction dissolves,” she says. “I’ve seen that the general population doesn’t find diverging from the norm to be attractive. I do wonder if it is just expected and a part of fitting in, not just socially but in gender roles as well. The man is ‘supposed to be’ the large protector and provider for the vulnerable woman,” she says.
Whatever the reason, the under 6’ contingent has had a tough time, especially when they date straight women. The “preference” for their taller counterparts is well-ingrained in TV, films, and dating apps across the world. It’s easy to eyeroll – after all, men have more than enough dating “preferences” of their own, many of which are fatphobic, transphobic, or otherwise restrictive. But it’s worth taking a closer look at the why: why do we think men need to be taller than women? Why do we think women need to be small at all? At their root, it becomes clear that what we consider preferences are often archaic, heteronormative standards that play into our expectations of gender, fucking over far more of us than a few cis manlets.
Opening your mind to short kings
You can’t help it if the idea of a pocket-sized boyfriend makes you recoil a little, but it’s worth reckoning with your preconceived notions. Rachel believes our preferences aren’t set in stone. “If you were born into a society where everyone was the same height, you would obviously be attracted to some of them, and height would just not be an issue,” she says. “I encourage my clients to step out of their comfort zones and broaden their pool of potential dates. If you want to meet a man who is kind, loving, reliable, emotionally intelligent, good at communicating, then a shorter man might be a better bet. My hypothesis is that taller men often don’t have to work so hard on their relationship skills because they get dates more easily.”
And if you’re a man like Harry, who hasn’t had much luck dating online, dating coach James Preece recommends meeting in the real world where you can make a connection based on personality. “Away from online dating, women aren't as concerned about height as they might think. Everyone is attracted to different things. This could be looks, power, sense of humour or status,” he says. “If you are a shorter man, then don't worry about it or make it an issue. Instead, focus on all the qualities you have to offer.”
He too believes women should be more open minded. “While some things such as religion can be important, superficial things are not. For example, women often tell me they want to be able to wear heels when out on a date. But is wearing heels really more important than finding a life partner?”
The tide is turning. 2019, according to comedian Jaboukie Young-White, was the year of the Short King. Tiny Meat Gang released the Short King Anthem last year, and maybe an app that connects little men with the people that love them is a way forward. It remains, to me anyway, unsurprising that the people who most frequently dismiss partners based on their height are cis, straight women: dismissing men who don’t conform to a hyper-masculine ideal is rooted in centuries of heteronormativity. It isn’t as straightforward as whether or not you’re hurting a small cis man’s feelings - upholding narrow ideas of what it means to be a man hurts everyone. But broadening your horizons ever-so-slightly might bring you what you’re looking for, even if it’s in a smaller package.
As Amy eloquently put it, “People miss out on so much because of their own arrogance. Your king may be out there standing at 5’6”, but go off with your cheating circus freak boyfriend,” she laughs. “What if you meet the love of your life, but they’re not aesthetically the right fit?” Well? What if?
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