How Being Short as a Man Can Affect Your Self-Esteem – and What You Can Do About It
If you’re a man suffering low self-esteem, your body image may be a contributing factor. This certainly isn’t helped by Instagram, where you constantly see buff and jacked guys showing off their good looks and physiques, with their perfect partner, living (so it seems) a perfect life. Men with low self-esteem might start lifting weights to get jacked and boost their self-esteem. Lifting weights can enhance your self-esteem in healthy ways but it can also be a poor substitute for true self-worth if you can only appreciate yourself based on your muscles.
The great thing about lifting weights is that it is, with some exceptions, of course, an even playing field. Each man can put in a certain amount of effort, time, and technique, and get big and strong. But one thing that men can’t change (not in any significant manner, anyway) is their height. If you’re a short man (and I say this as a 5’6 man), your height can sometimes really get you down and knock your confidence.
My Lived Experience as a Short Man
I never really used to care about my height. Well, I did during puberty, when everyone else was going through growth spurts, while I seemed to lag behind. After puberty, however, I was still very much a short guy, but it wasn’t something that took up space in my thoughts. It never made me think I wasn’t good enough for anyone.
Nonetheless, I had been teased for my height in all sorts of ways, from comments to more patronizing gestures, like being patted on the head or having people lean on me. Girls had also specifically rejected me for being too short. And on a separate occasion, a girl I was with said she couldn’t walk next to me because it made her look tall! I’m surprised, given that I’ve struggled with low self-esteem, that these moments didn’t constantly eat me up inside.
However, a more recent rejection, which was nothing to do with my height, seemed to make me feel extremely insecure about being short. All of a sudden, I started to compare my height with everyone I was walking past in the street (am I taller than him/her? Around the same height as him/her? Oh he/she is shorter than me, thank God!) I was also determined to get my exact height measurement and felt deflated when the measuring tape kept telling me I was 5’6 (I thought I was 5’7. Maybe that measurement was wrong or I had somehow shrunk).
I suppose this rejection might have made hidden insecurities rise to the surface. When your height is used against you, and especially if a romantic interest rejects you because of it, that can be hard to forget. Especially since it’s not an aspect of your physical appearance you can change.
Some Facts About Male Height and Attractiveness
There’s no getting around the fact that a lot of women (perhaps even most) are more attracted to men who are taller than them. Also, women prefer a big height difference between them and a male partner (21cm), which means they are more attracted to tall men, in general, not necessarily men (some short guys) who may be a bit taller than them. The evolutionary explanation for this is that tallness translates into strength and, in turn, an ability to protect and compete.
This research doesn’t have to make short guys like me pessimistic, however. One study found that physical strength determines over 70% of men’s bodily attractiveness. Signs of upper torso strength were considered far more attractive physical attributes to the female participants than tallness. This is reassuring since, as already mentioned, guys can always work on their physical strength.
Moreover, while tallness may be biologically and culturally associated with ideal manliness, not everyone (especially the kind of partner you want) is going to attach that much importance to it. Biological impulses can be overridden or sidelined when other attributes come into play. Also, more recent research (from dating apps, at least) seems to suggest that the tide is turning on female preferences for height. Dating app Badoo has revealed that the most right-swiped height for men aged 18-30 was 5’8, followed by 5’10, then 5’6 (hooray!) Being 6ft, when using this dating app, actually meant you were less likely to be swiped right than if you were 5’6, strangely enough.
How Shortness Affects Men’s Mental Health
Not all hope is lost for short men. There are plenty of men out there dating women who are taller than them. On the other hand, we should also highlight the underappreciated struggles that short men face. Being short as a man makes you more likely to suffer from depression. It also entails a twofold greater risk of suicide. Daniel Freeman, a clinical psychologist at Oxford University, has studied the effect of height on paranoia. He notes that for taller men, “the chances of feeling anxious or depressed tend to be a little lower. Greater height is also associated with a slightly lower risk of suicide."
The reason shortness can impact a man’s self-esteem relates to the kind of microaggressions I’ve already alluded to. But it also comes down to the fact that people generally take you less seriously. As Freeman states:
“The taller you are, the more likely you'll do better at school. Being tall is also associated with career success. It has been estimated that a person who is six feet tall is likely to earn over £100,000 ($150,000) more during the course of a 30-year career than someone who is five foot four.”
How to Stop Letting Height Impact Your Self-Esteem
While being short may be outside of your control, it doesn’t have to negatively impact your life. Here’s what you can do about it.
- Build self-confidence and self-esteem based on inner qualities. Your level of self-respect as a man should not be based at all on how tall you are. When you are confident about your virtues and attributes, you will exude confidence and become more attractive. The sooner you can stop giving a shit about your height, the sooner you will feel confident, be that in dating, in a social context, or in a professional setting.
- The people who matter don’t care, and the people who care don’t matter. Would you really want to be with someone who would categorically reject you because you’re short? If a potential partner places such a strong value on height, it suggests a high degree of superficiality. So, being outside of their height requirement means you’re probably better off without them.
- If you really want to improve your attractiveness (as well as improve your mental health), then hitting the gym could be an effective strategy. Just make sure that you are approaching weight lifting with the right attitude. Don’t build strength purely so that you can feel good about yourself or think of yourself as attractive. This can easily backfire. If you stop working out, for whatever reason, you don’t want this hiatus to mean that your self-esteem plummets. Having said that, as Henry Rollins argues in this brilliant essay, lifting weights can help develop not only your physical strength but your mental fortitude as well. It teaches discipline, instils the willingness to overcome challenges, and naturally acts as an antidepressant. And you have to put in the effort to achieve these benefits.
- Do yoga. If you really want to appear taller than you are, then include a practice of yoga into your daily routine. Many yoga postures help to improve your posture, which may add a bit of height and allow you to walk tall. Short men with poor posture certainly aren’t doing themselves any favors.
When all’s said and done, though, the most successful, confident, and mature men don’t spend their days worrying about their height or feeling frustrated they were born shorter than average. Appreciate yourself as you are and realize that what you can offer to people and the world has absolutely nothing to do with your height. Take note of your positive qualities and let these dictate your self-esteem.
Body image issues are more common than you may realize, and they can be terrible about holding people back. It's part of our mission to empower folks to design their ideal life, and we recognize that it can be challenging to do so when you struggle with self-esteem, which is why we wrote this guide.
Written by Sam Woolfe
I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.