Short Stories: On Being 4'11" (And Three Quarters) In The Workplace

Being a shawty comes with its own set of life experiences—some great, some not-so-great, and some in between. Rarely do these experiences have a judgement-free place to be openly realized as conversations and shared with a larger community. Short Stories is that place.

Ahead, Smalletics chats with Sarah Beckett*, a twenty-five year old, 4’11” and three quarters shawty about her experience being short in life and in the workplace.

This interview is part one of the Short Stories series. The names have been changed, but the stories represent real perspectives from members of the #shortgirlgang community.

Tell me about being petite and growing up petite. 

"I’m a little under 5 feet at 4'11" and three quarters, so I always round up to 5 feet. I think that’s warranted. People will tell me, 'oh you carry yourself like someone who’s 5 foot 2,' which I guess is a compliment, but that just shows how much height is something that is valued in our society—like carrying yourself like you're even two inches taller is so important. Really, just two inches. 

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"Growing up I feel like people would always say 'oh you’re so cute, you’re so petite.' I don’t think I felt it in middle school, but I know professionally it has come up. It’s always been something I accepted, but once I was in a job interview where the interviewer was like—and I guess they had seen a picture of me prior to the interview—'oh my hiring manager saw a picture of you and she was like, "oh she’s so cute!"'—which is so inappropriate. Just the fact that your appearance could affect the way you’re perceived on a professional level. Or lots of time I’ll get 'wow you’re so impressive, you look so young.' It makes my accomplishments seem more, agrandir [French for enlarged], I'm forgetting the word in English. You give the impression that you’re a lot more successful." 

What was your first experience in a professional setting facing this kind of sizism?

"I was giving a presentation to clients at a former company and it was a big room of people. I got up in front of them and this guy was like, 'what are you, 17 or something?.' Everyone realized in the room that it was super inappropriate, and all of his colleagues looked at him and the salesperson looked like, 'I don't know what to do.' So I laughed, because I didn’t know what to do. I made some joke like, 'I found the fountain of youth,' or something, and tried to move on with it. It was awkward. I brought it up later at a corporate leadership event and someone gave me the suggestion or strategy to just ask them, 'why do you say that?' It gives that person an out to say, 'oh because you’re so impressive,' you know? And then it alleviates the awkwardness. I thought that was a good strategy."

It's not a bad thing to be short so I don’t know why people call it out, it’s like, so what?

"I also had an incident at work where I was asked to facilitate a session by writing things on the board in a conference room. People were instructed to place sticky notes on parts of the board as kind of a group exercise, and so I wrote my three smiley faces on the board and stuck them on. Then someone said, and prefaced it with, 'you know I’m all for inclusivity,'—indicating that he knew this could be a touchy point—'but maybe we should have someone taller write the smiley faces on the board.' And that was like, really? You can’t put your sticky notes a bit higher or lower on the board? I think it was really hurtful too because I was already feeling a bit of imposter syndrome in the role and it just felt like, am I not able to do this job because I’m not able to write up high on a white board?"

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"I joked and some other man jumped in and said 'I’ll do it,' but he was also sort of a shorter man and so I joked and said, 'ha-ha, you’ve got your six inches on me.' I took the humor approach again. We had just started working together, but if I had been like 'really, why do you say that, do you really have a problem with me putting your post-it notes a little lower?' I wonder how he would’ve reacted, right? He probably would’ve been dumbfounded, because obviously you can put your post-it notes a little lower. This one just seemed so stupid, I don’t even know where he got that idea."

What has your experience been working with primarily men in the tech space?

"I feel like sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish sexism from sizism. I don't like dressing casually at work, and lots of these men are wearing shorts and flip flops. But I just don’t feel comfortable presenting myself like that.

"I love wearing dresses. I do remember actually there was this one day when I started my new job and there was a really nice floral dress that I wanted to wear, but then I thought, do I really wanna wear a floral dress today when I’m presenting to all these male stakeholders? You know? I guess almost my dress code is a way for me to seem more qualified or a way of overcompensating for my height."

Do you think being petite has made you tougher?

"I guess so. You always have to think of these strategies. And the thing is, when I told you that story of back when that guy asked if I was 17, I almost kind of anticipated that something like that would happen. It's just what happens when you bring a group full of strangers together in a sales tour. I think the very fact that I predicted it is kind of indicative of the fact that you always have to be prepared for these things and you kind of walk around life knowing that people will say really ignorant stuff."

Do you have any other stories in life when height came into play?

"It’s occurring to me that when I was younger, I was on the shorter end of my grade, and going to amusement parks was a really big deal because I was never tall enough to go on some of the rides that my friends were going on. I'd go to an amusement park and my mom would be, like I don’t want to take you because I don’t want to spend the money when you can’t even go on half of the rides. It was a really big deal. I remember I could only go to Disney World with my parents when I had reached 48 inches because that was the minimum for the rides. I also remember going to an amusement park and I put my hair up in like a high bun thinking they’d let in in with my hair...I didn’t really fool anyone, so after that my mom made sure I was really going to be 48 inches."

You started the high top bun trend.

"Oh for sure. Just a few inches, but I still remember 48 inches was the cutoff to be able to go on the rides and obviously it’s a safety concern and they do it for a reason, but it’s hard when you’re growing up.

"I also credit my parents because when I was really young I had the option of starting school a year early because I’m already a year older for my grade, and one of the factors they considered in not making me do it was because I was shorter. Which totally makes sense, right, because if I was already shorter than everyone else...I guess in terms of athletic things or just not being made fun of—they foresaw those potential challenges. 

"I think they made the right decision for sure, but it’s crazy how much your life could change based on a factor that has nothing to do with intellectual capacity. To think that I was only four years old and my height played a role in my life trajectory."

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I wanted to ask you about fitness. Have you felt like your height has affected it?

"Yeah, hand eye coordination is not my forte, but as I’ve gotten out of high school gym class and taken on my own fitness routine, I’ve really enjoyed it. Not in a competitive way, but as a way to just de-stress and feel good about myself. I was doing a lot of spin classes and even though the bikes are adjustable, it’s really hard to get a position that felt good for my body. I still feel like for a taller person maybe it’s a more standard set-up, and I feel like that's just been a bigger challenge for me.

"And in terms of eating healthy or eating out and portion sizes—sometimes I'll be presented with a big portion and I can’t eat it all. People will say, 'oh are you on a diet?' But it’s like no, I weigh less, I have a smaller frame, I have different caloric needs."

Any advice for fellow shawties?

"I feel like day-to-day it’s so engrained in who I am that it’s hard to parse out what’s me and what’s me being short. I just feel like I’ve had to kind of adapt to how other people see me, because there's this sort of social construct. Sometimes I just feel like the world around me isn't designed for people of different heights."

Should the world be designed for the largest population, or should it be flexible?

"Yeah, can a short girl just get a standing desk please?!"