Don’t Call Me Shorty

by Tommi Avicolli-Mecca on August 22, 2007

“Shorty” is an insult. I know it well. I’ve always been short. At five-foot-six, I’m hardly the American ideal. I come from a long line of barely five-foot tall immigrants from southern Italy where people were not known to be giants. Both my parents were shorter than I am.

Most of America’s immigrant populations have been on the smaller size. Once they developed a taste for the American diet, however, some of them started to shoot up like Jack’s beanstalks. Or at least their kids and grandchildren did. In the past, Americans had the distinction of being the people on the planet with the greatest stature. Height-wise, that is. But not anymore …

Now comes news via John Komlos, a researcher at the University of Munich, that Americans are not the tallest people on the planet. It seems we lost out to the Dutch. They now have a whopping two inches on us.

Americans don’t like to lose anything. Unless it’s in their waists. Or butts. When it comes to penises and breasts, they want to add as many inches as they can. If radiation worked on flesh the way it does on tomatoes, there’d be a lot of irradiated breasts and genitals in America.

It’s hardly news. Consider how many products there are that promise to put inches on our most intimate parts. If I had a dollar for every “penis enlargement” email I’ve received in my junk folder in the past five years, I’d be retired and living in Florida.

It’s not just body parts that have to be bigger. Remember those cigarette commercials that claimed their product was a “just silly millimeter longer?” As if Americans even know what a millimeter is, being metric-deprived as we are.

Or “the whopper,” that huge chunk of dead cow flesh on a bun? Advertisers routinely hype the size of their products. Americans just have to have the biggest cars, houses, wardrobe, sandwich, flat screen, etc. Unless of course they’re looking for an ipod or a cellphone. Then smallness matters.

Komlos proposes that one reason for the drop in American stature is our lousy healthcare system. The Dutch have national healthcare, which gives them access to better treatment at an earlier age. With medicine on the free market here, many of us go without, simply because we can’t afford it.

Another factor could be diet. For Americans, it’s gotten steadily worse since the introduction of fast foods and pre-packaged sugar- and salt-saturated products. American youth are suffering the effects of this decline in dietary habits: As their height has dropped, their rate of diabetes has shot up.

It’s not as if height is all that important. I don’t believe there’s a right or wrong size for humans. We’re meant to come in all shapes and sizes.

That’s simply the tall and short of it.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical, southern Italian, working-class, atheist queer performer and writer with a website:

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