My body is designed to be little. My hips are narrow. My knees knock together. My breasts are tiny. At 5’2, 98 percent of American adults have to look down to speak to me. Littleness has been unfortunate in many regards (having to stand on a bench to kiss people, for example), but it has also been a great delight. I can completely stretch out on a sofa. My clothing fits easily into small suitcases. And I can curl up in a seat on an airplane and fall asleep on myself without having to come in contact with people on either side. Littleness genuinely kicks ass.
On the other hand, over the course of the last several years I have had to seriously take myself to task for all of the other reasons I enjoyed being little. It was never just about the sofa or the suitcase or the airplane. It was also because I fit into the sexist feminine ideal.
Being little means that I am smaller than just about every man. I was once told in a bar that I am “5 foot fuck-all.” Crude, but accurate. Men are completely free to be romantically or sexually interested in a woman if she is smaller than he. It’s more of a gamble for the woman if she is larger: all of my taller or better built friends are far better women than I, but they get fewer hits on their OK Cupid profiles. With a diminuitive frame, I have the potential to be universally desirable as a romantic or sex object. Hooray.
Worse than that, it’s the same thing in the opposite direction. We women will usually only date or be interested in men if they are larger than we are. With obvious exceptions, humans all over the place are on the same page: men should be big, and women should be small.
This applies to skeletal frame as well as to total volume, height as well as pant size.
Now, of course: males are bigger and women are smaller. That’s how sexual dimorphism goes: its a fact of the species. But to be better because you fit into a culturally-conditioned sexist ideal that conforms to those standards? Gross.
As an example of how much the Western world desires physically smaller women, just for kicks and because my brain is overloaded on hermeneutic phenomenology this week, I’d like to point to World of Warcraft. It’s a fun and unique example, and a powerful one because it is about deliberate construction.
In one of the original versions of the game, called ‘Alpha,’ female and male characters were the same size. Players complained that the female characters were big and ugly, however, so game designers made some hotter and smaller ladies. To be honest, I am surprised at how large the females are. My experience and exposure to these kinds of games tells me that the female characters are horribly sexualized (see the last image), and also I know that they are smaller.
On the other hand, the WoW community is a bit more counter-culture and a bit less mainstream than, say, Cosmo or Shape magazine, so I am aware that the WoW picture is fairly complex and might even be laudably “progressive.” Look to the left and the right for the differences in image 1 and 2, and then to image 3 for the smallness and lack of musculature of female characters in general.
(images from the link above, a great site, btw)
Is it just me, or is there a trade-off between absolute height and musculature here?
These are just female characters, notice the lack of musculature:
However, it is quite cool how terribly bad ass each of these characters is, and I have a feeling they do more to empower than a lot of other images women might associate themselves with in our society.
Ok, that’s enough for my nerd. Moving on to the important part.
This whole idea applies to more than image, however. It applies to voices, to personalities, to muscles… to salaries… it’s all a part of the same paradigm, though here it manifests itself in our very physicality. Men are supposed to be big. Dominanting. Protective. Strong. Enfolding. The caretaker. Women are supposed to be little. Protected. Held. Dependent. The taken-care-of.
I crave these things, personally. And strongly. I was a princess for Halloween ages 4 through 9, with the exception of one year as a caterpillar.
I want my men to be large. More importantly, however, I want them to be capable of holding my space, to take care of me, to be strong, and to enfold and embrace me — physically and otherwise. I want them to be big not just in physical space but in personal space. The physical is important because it symbolizes and embodies the rest of it. With my desire for big, hulking men (women is a different story, and I imagine this is because I am okay with women being the small feminine ideal) comes a desire for big, hulking protectors. I want to be overwhelmed by the bigness of men around me and to be small in comparison.
I cannot figure out how much of that is the simple, universal human desire for love and protection in me, and how much of that is a sexist norm implanted deep in my brain. We all want to be protected, right? Is my desire healthy or normal? Or is it a sexist smallness that wants me to disappear into the dreams and power of a sex bigger than I?
This phenomenon is just as harmful for men as it is for women. Just as we are forced to be little, needy, taken-care-of, and the like (though of course we may resist and challenge the paradigm, as so many of the women in this community relentlessly do!), men are forced to be strong, to support, and to be fearless providers. The subjugation on one end and the pressure on the other are both enormous. What about as women our abilities and rights to be strong providers and take care of romantic partners? What about as men their desires and rights to be to be held and be taken care of by romantic partners? These roles are actively discouraged by gender norms in general.
As a species, females are smaller than males. This is a fact. That’s fine! Sexual dimorphism exists across the animal kingdom. But our abhorrence of female fat, female muscles, and any part of larger female stature is not a genetic requirement.
We know that it is less socially acceptable for women to be overweight than for men. That is in large part because we are still sex objects whose worth is somewhat predicated on the way that we look. I believe another part of that is that women are not supposed to take up any more physical space than they absolutely have to.
We as women can be physically small without fetishizing it; we can be smaller than men without having to be smaller than men; we can have smaller frames without being small beings. We can still be large or thick beings, can still walk with chins high up in the air, and perhaps most importantly we can still present large auras and big personalities and strong, vibrant bodies and souls.
Don’t let lightness norms fuck with your femininity. Being small and light and waify is not more feminine. Being healthy and fit? Sure. But little? No! Get out, I won’t have any of it.
To that end, I hope that all of us own the sizes of our natural frames and bodies, and own the sizes of our souls.
Let each of these be as they are naturally, and stand up defiantly against all that oppressive sexist crap that tries to make you small.
I know we cannot change the culture at large. But we can in our own lives at least stop trying to fit into it in order to fit in. The good girls and boys out there will never resent us making that choice. They will, instead, be happy, and hopefully be liberated in turn.
I believe in my big, radiant, strong light of a soul that refuses to be caged, and I believe in yours, too.