March 21, 2024

Is ‘heightism’ the last socially acceptable prejudice?

You may remember Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997 in the cabinet of President Bill Clinton. His distinguished career included being a Rhodes Scholar, running for the Governorship of Massachusetts, and writing several books. In 2008, Time magazine named him one of the Ten Best Cabinet Members of the century. He is also 4 foot, 11 inches tall, or 150 cm. Obviously short people can be big achievers. 

However, as a feature in UnHerd points out, some orthopaedic surgeons are helping people to lengthen their limbs so that they can be taller, not as treatment, but as an enhancement. 

As Unherd points out, clinics for this potentially risky surgery are multiplying in medical tourism hotspots like Mexico, India, and Turkey. “It’s an entirely unregulated global market where orthopaedic surgeons promise simple surgical solutions to complex problems with far too much gusto and entrepreneurial flair,” says Unherd contributor Sean T. Smith. He quotes the patient welfare coordinator at the Iwannabetaller clinic in Istanbul:

“We see a lot of businessmen who say I’m in a senior position and need to lead teams of people but with this height I’m not able to do this. People believe that if they are taller, they will be heard more or more likely to be considered for promotions because they’re taken more seriously.”

Is the real problem “heightism”, “the last socially acceptable form of discrimination” – which makes shorter men feel inferior? Perhaps Robert Reich has a better, and less expensive solution – do nothing. He writes in an excellent essay on his Substack blog:

I still advise parents of short kids not to try to boost their height, but instead to try giving them the inner security that comes with acceptance and love. 

Hey, I’m okay with being protected by giant soldiers. Or big security guards. Or massive first responders. A trigger in my brain tells me that I don’t want to do these sorts of jobs, anyway. 

I’m fortunate to have grown up (or at least grown upward) in a society that, more and more, values brains over brawn. 

There are still bullies in the world, of course. But in a civil society, those bullies can be stopped with words and ideas. 

At least, that’s been my faith. That’s how I’ve tried to compensate for my short height.