If Ladies Like Their Men Tall, What Does That Mean for the Short Ones?
Picture this: The stunningly handsome male lead of that new rom-com movie leans in to kiss his equally stunning female lead. Except something is off — he’s shorter than she is … but you’re not really supposed to pick up on that. No serious Hollywood romance worth its salt would stage such a scene, even when the male lead actor in question actually is shorter than his female counterpart.
All manner of angling tricks, as well as solutions high-tech (CGI) and low-tech (the actor literally standing on a platform) will be used to ensure that all is right in this cinematic world. That means the man will always be just a little bit taller than the woman.
That small difference is essentially the golden mean of heterosexual couple height, a pleasing ratio whose presence crops up so often that we don’t even know it’s there, well, until it’s not. And when that height difference isn’t there, look out, gents. Online dating chats between otherwise promising matches can be cut short. Jokes will be made in group DMs and texts, too. Being short seems to mark you as inadequate in the eyes of some with no real explanation as to why.
But what’s the big deal about height? Why do women go for tall guys? There’s nothing inherently better about being tall — in and of itself, hitting the 6’ mark doesn’t confer many genuine advantages beyond, say, being able to reach things on the top shelf.
And yet there is a sense of genuine mystique when it comes to tall men, like they’re diamonds in the rough that simply shine brighter than their shorter brethren.
We spoke with various men and women, as well as a professional dating coach, to get the low-down on why women prefer tall guys (and what short guys can do about it).
1. Why Are Taller Guys Considered Sexier?
The short answer? It’s complicated. For one, not everyone finds taller guys sexier. We also can’t objectively know why anyone finds anything attractive.
Sexual and aesthetic preferences are tricky things. If the history of people trying to go against their sexual impulses is any indication, they seem to obey no master.
At the same time, that argument can have both positive and negative tones. It can be empowering for queer people to assert that their desires are part of who they are, not choices that can be switched off through sheer will or outside intervention. At the same time, saying, “I’m just not attracted to people like that” is weaponized against people from marginalized groups of all types and left at that.
The issue of the attractiveness of short men maps somewhat inelegantly onto that notion. On the one hand, short men are hardly a marginalized group; there is no organized effort to eradicate 5’6” men from the world, or to deny 5’5” men from public spaces. 5’4” men are not denied rights on the basis of their height, and 5’3” men are not put to death or arrested for failing to measure up.
On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that there is a bias against shorter men when it comes to sexual and romantic prospects for lots of women; a bias that comes off relatively shallow.
“Many women like taller men because they equate height to overall strength,” says dating coach Connell Barrett. “This is very caveman-and-cavewoman. It’s evolutionary. For some women, tall equals power, and in the dating game power often equals attraction. A taller man could be seen as being stronger, and therefore able to fight off threats.”
“I think I find height especially attractive. And I think I find it attractive because it is a sublime effect where I feel sort of tiny/smaller/protected by tall people.” — Mary, 5’5”
Whether there’s any truth to that genetic predisposition, it’s certainly a truth that’s culturally encoded. From birth onward, men learn one way or another that to be tall is to be manly. Attractive men in popular media are either tall or made to seem tall. Those men deemed unattractive — whether villainous, cowardly, fey or non-sexual — are often short.
That’s not the only dichotomy we see in popular media between the leading man archetype and the men cast in other roles — things like scars, glasses, acne, thinning hair, unimpressive musculatures and weak chins are included to help ram home which guy the audience should root for (and which they should root against).
The shallowness of that binary, combined with the consistency with which it is used, means that guys on the outside looking in are at a disadvantage. Anyone they seek to date will have already absorbed, to some degree or other, the message that being tall means being hot.
And while lots of those traits can be managed with a little bit of time, effort and money, height in particular is not subject to the whims of the vain. Short guys, then, might feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick at all times.
2. What Do Guys Think About Height Differences?
“I just never went for taller girls. Always got nervous. So I wouldn’t know [if tall girls would date me]. I was always upfront to women on dating apps before I went out. Some would stop responding. It is what it is.” – Mark, 5’3”
When it comes to height differences when dating, it really depends on how tall you are. For straight guys, height is sort of a you-have-it-or-you-don’t proposition. On one side of the equation are guys who probably never think about it, and on the other, you have guys whose whole dating lives feel marked and circumscribed by that.
“I’ve honestly never really thought about it much, which I guess is part of the privilege of my height being normatively attractive. I do find taller women sexy — I’m much more likely to date someone who’s 5’10” than someone who’s 5’2” — but if there was any kind of a genuine connection, I definitely wouldn’t let a few inches of height change my mind.” – Ian, 6’1”
As with many things gendered, a lot of the anger in the discourse around height with dating comes from men who feel like they’re being treated unfairly.
Though tall women also struggle with cultural predispositions towards a taller man/shorter woman dynamic, occasionally having to put their heights in their dating profile bios, it’s short men who make up the bulk of the conversation, both in number and intensity.
Some short men have even gone so far as to coin terms like “heightism” and “height supremacy” to align the discrimination they feel they experience with other forms of social inequality.
“I dated one guy who was 5’5″. He would not shut up about it. We went on five or six dates. He didn’t kiss me until the last of our dates… then ghosted me. I also dated another guy who was like maybe 5’6″. He didn’t talk about it that much, but clearly needed reassurance. He was good in bed, but I felt like it was partly because he was obsessed with compensating.” – Sarah, 5’6″
While height discrimination doesn’t, for instance, include laws on what you can and can’t do, it can definitely have a pernicious effect on one’s self-esteem if you’re rejected over and over for something you can’t control. And it’s hardly relegated to heterosexual dating, either. One place where people might not realize height discrimination is a thing is in the gay community, where guys can’t blame “reverse sexism,” or an intrinsic gender divide for being shallowly dismissed.
“I’ve had guys literally tell me, ‘Oh, I thought you were taller. Sorry, it won’t work,’ the second we meet. My height is on my dating profile.” – Alex, 5’6”
Of course, that doesn’t mean being on the shorter side is a death sentence to your dating chances, regardless of who you’re attracted to.
“I’ve met and coached countless shorter men who’ve had amazing success with tall women,” says Barrett. “Shorter guys have nothing to fear but fear itself. The danger is letting self-consciousness about their height turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to dating failure. If a shorter guy is filled with doubt and fear about his attractiveness, his confidence will plummet, making him less confident — and that will lead to the rejection he fears. But the culprit is low confidence, not the fact that he’s 5’5’’.”
3. What’s the Women’s Perspective on Height Differences?
When speaking with a few ladies, there wasn’t zero bias against short guys, but there wasn’t wall-to-wall disapproval of them, either.
Frankly, the most common sentiment heard was an openness to the possibility of dating shorter men — if only those men were also open to it, and not stressed about their own height.
“Making decisions about who you’re dating based on how you physically look next to each other is so dark, so wrong, so misguided. If you want to wear heels, and it will make you taller than your partner and that bothers you, that is a basic ‘you’ problem you need to deal with before you impose it on anybody else.” – Molly, 5’11”
Another aspect that gets brought up a fair amount in the male height discussion is that it’s equivalent to the discussion around females and their weight. Some men think if a woman opens an online dating conversation by asking you how tall you are, it’s fair game to ask her how much she weighs.
Though the two things measure vastly different concepts, they’re both numbers that get weaponized specifically against one gender more than the other. And to be fair, asking a pointed question about someone’s body in the very early going is an impolite move to make.
“I love short men. As a short woman, they are so near me.” – Viola, 5’2”
4. What Can Shorter Guys Do to Gain an Advantage?
“I think it’s more a failure to own your height, or a perceived insecurity about it that’s more of a turn off than the height itself. If a dude writes 5’4” on their profile, sure, whatever, I’m sure some women are superficial and might swipe away. But the dudes who say ‘5’4,” if that matters to you. Bitches, man,’ are going to strike out, 100 percent.” – Jen, 5’4”
There’s something to be said about a proactive approach to your shortcomings, but when it comes to overcoming a height deficit, it might be a case of less is more.
That is, guys who take maximalist approaches — actively dressing to make themselves seem taller, wearing lifts, or even opting for leg-extension surgery — run the risk of over-correcting something that’s not as big of a problem as they think it is.
“I’ve only dated taller guys because every time I approach a short dude, it seems like he has more of a problem with it than me. Once, I asked a guy to prom and he said no because he thought it would ‘look weird in photos.’ Like, broaden your mind, dude.” – Faith, 5’6”
Instead, the best change that you can make as a shorter guy is a mental shift. That’s not to say that you should pretend that the odds aren’t stacked against you (because, let’s face it, they sort of are compared to your taller brethren), but you shouldn’t make a mountain out of a molehill.
“Success with women is about the value as men we offer them,” says Barrett. “So yes, height is a form of value in some women’s eyes, but there are lots of ways to compensate. Shorter guys can show their value and worthiness to women by having great eye contact, speaking with a resonant vocal tonality, becoming funnier and more charismatic, being better story-tellers.”
It might be one strike against you to be height-challenged, but having a bad attitude about is another.
“Height is a nice bonus, but it’s so overrated,” adds Barrett. “The truth is, a lot of tall women say they don’t date shorter guys, but if a 5’5’’ dude is cool and confident and making her giggle, she’ll forget about her so-called height rule. When it comes to dating amazing women, being a guy who’s smart, cool and funny is better than being 6’4’’ with washboard abs.”
If you’re confident, open-minded and able to put the height thing behind you, you’re apt to hit things off with the next person who crosses your path.
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