David Ko spent the better part of college life as a single man. Studying molecular and cellular biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, driving his convertible sports car on weekends and lifting weights, David had a lot going for him. But the 23-year-old says he struck out when it came to girls.
“There were a few girls I was interested in, but since I was roughly the same height they automatically disqualified me,” he recalls.
At 5'4'', comments about David’s height eventually drove him out of the dating game, as thoughts of being “forever alone” plagued his mind.
“Some [dates] would agree then turn me down at a later time while some declined right away. They didn’t tell me straight to my face but I found out through mutual friends.
“Not only with rejections, but a few of my friends would make remarks like, ‘You'd look so much more attractive if you were five inches taller’ or ‘I bet you’d get so many girls if you were tall.”
Rooming with a 5'9'' handsome white male who “pulled a lot of girls” didn’t help either, with his housemate’s words of advice simply being “just be confident.”
The old adage suggests that good things come in small packages, but is that true when it comes to the male dating world? In a society that tends to favour tallness, and with many apps requiring you to enter your height, it seems that smaller men have drawn the short straw.
Louiegin Nillas once dated a man a few inches shy of her—her first and last experience with someone shorter.
“It didn’t bother me but our conversations always went to how I’m taller than him and way out of his league,” she said. “I tried two more dates after but I felt so uncomfortable about how his insecurities would get into the conversation, and it felt like he was always trying to compensate for being short... kind of like those little dogs that bark at everything.”
Another woman, Louise Lagman, has also had her fair share of dates with self-conscious shorties. One in particular stood out.
“Greg had seen all these memes and jokes about girls only dating 6’ plus men and he wouldn’t change the topic,” she said. “In my mind I’m like, ‘If this is how you talk on dates, I’m pretty sure it’s not height that’s the issue. Don’t swing that or any baggage my way, I don’t have the time or energy to be someone’s fixer’.”
Insecurities aside, there are myriad other ways petit men have been shortchanged—assuming the default little spoon position; struggling to achieve eye contact with a bartender; and a higher chance of being “friendzoned” or being accused of “height-fishing.” While they’re likely to save more money by consuming less food and space, a 2006 study on online dating found that a man who is 5'6'' needs an additional $175,000 to be as desirable as a man who is approximately 6' tall and only makes $62,500 a year.
This sort of discrimination has left many wounded and wary of the dating scene. Juan Calilong is 26 years old and 5'4''. He lives in Manila and says he once dated a girl taller than him who was upset she couldn’t wear heels around him.
“One girl told me that my personality is great, it’s just the height that was the problem. I told her jokingly that she could lose some weight to make her more attractive. She told me it’s not easy to lose weight to which I replied, ‘It’s not easy to gain height too,’” he told VICE.
Juan left the dating scene soon after as all the girls he was meeting told him the same thing—“I’m too short.”
Miguel Buenaflor is 5'6''. He grew up in Manila but is now in his early 20s living in California. He says he once asked his grandma to buy him elevator shoes for school. Going into college wasn’t any easier, as “people constantly drooling over NBA players took a subtle toll,” but he ironically ended up dating a 5'10'' girl who was considering doing college basketball.
“This is a pretty embarrassing story but whenever we held hands, I would actually stand on the sidewalk while she would walk on the streets,” he recalls.
While female friends complained to him about lying in bed with a guy whose legs were shorter than theirs, Miguel learned to find solace in similarity.
“I’m sure I’m not the only short guy to do this but I have a tendency to look for celebrities and artists who are about the same height, in search of validation and comfort,” he says.
Such big names with short statures like Zac Efron, Tom Cruise, Prince, James Dean and Lionel Messi all prove height is just a number. Millions admire them, and it seems short men are starting to stand up for themselves.
Comedian Jaboukie Young-White famously coined the term “short kings” in his 2018 tweet reclaiming the word “short.” Blackbear & TMG followed suit with their 2019 ode to vertically-impaired men, “Short Kings Anthem,” where they boasted: “I could suck a titty while I’m standing up.” Even an app for piccolo-sized men is in the works—Short King Dating declaring “tall, dark and handsome” is outdated and encouraging women to not let height get in the way of true love.
For many, these initiatives are helpful but in short supply. Many are still struggling in the dating realm and feel like they will always have the short end of the stick.
Damien Diecke is the head coach and founder of School of Attraction, a Sydney-based dating school for men. At 5'8'' himself, Damien has had his fair share of dating taller women. It’s something he’s learned to accept, he says, as “we live in a society that assumes taller men have authority or are easier to pay attention to.”
He uses a two to three inch buffer when seeking potential interests, claiming “you’ll generally have better success with women shorter than you.” He also advises and tries to build a connection first, before disclosing his height casually prior to the date so they have the option to meet him or not. While these strategies may work in the short-term, Damien’s ultimate tip is confidence.
“If you focus on a thing you don’t have, people are going to focus on that more strongly,” he says. “It’s not about making yourself taller, but bringing out other features you have that you can bring to the table.”
It’s a similar piece of advice David’s much taller, sexually-successful college roommate bestowed upon him. After being asked why he didn’t have a girlfriend, David told him it was because he was short.
“Bullshit,” his roommate responded.
“I made an excuse that it was easy for him to say since he was taller, but he then went on to lecture me about confidence,” David recalls.
He then threw himself into weight training and constantly told himself, ‘I’m the shit; I’m a great guy; I’m such a catch.’ Eventually his height didn’t bother him, and he started subconsciously carrying himself higher to the point where people thought he was taller than he actually was, or forgot he was short altogether.
“Little did I know how much of a confidence booster muscles were. My self esteem was gradually repaired and I essentially ‘artificially’ boosted my own ego until I truly believed it myself.”
David now has a girlfriend and credits his confidence to being able to ask her out. Size may matter to some people, but if you can see past someone’s height then there’s a whole group of men out there who are willing to share their clothes with you.
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