Common folklore dictates that Napoleon Bonaparte, characterized by his overly-aggressive and domineering social behavior, compensated for his lack of height by being a real dick to anyone and everyone. The term ‘Napoleon Complex’, coined by Australian psychoanalyst Alfred Adler in 1926, used the name to describe the notion of an inferiority complex, where the implication is that such behavior is due to an overcompensation for one’s height.
Bonaparte’s wasn’t some kind of he-ate-all-the-communal-cheese type of dickery, though. He sought power and conquest, and thus war ensued. At his death he was measured at 5’2” by British troops, and apparently repeatedly lowered the minimum height for French soldiers – an early pioneer of diversity, maybe, but my god did this guy have a horrible personality.
As a result, many men of a shorter stature have been slapped with this label, often being typecast as aggressive. Ian Fleming once said that short men “caused all the trouble in the world” – and according to science, maybe he’s right.
Those who struggle fall into the trap of defining themselves by their height and overestimate its effect
According to research published by experts from the federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, men who struggle with their masculinity and height are three times more likely to commit violent assaults with a weapon.
But according to London hypnotherapist Tim Grimwade, it’s more about feelings of inadequacy than aggression: “It is the anxiety about their height, rather than their stature itself, that can lead to adverse feelings or behaviors,” he says.
But he also notes that not all short men exhibit these issues – most learn to accept their height as only one detail of who they are. “Those who struggle fall into the trap of defining themselves by their height and overestimate its effect on how they are perceived by others.”
Essentially, the anxiety of a short man is shaped and exacerbated by his surroundings – here’s just a few of the things that can cause it…
They Make Less Money
Donald Trump often uses height as a power grab. As noted by the New York Times, the US president uses stature against opponents as an insult – “Liddle Bob Corker”, “Little Rocket Man” (Kim Jong-Un) and “Little Marco” Rubio.
In fact, he declined to consider Senator Corker as secretary of state reportedly because, at 5’7″, he deemed him too short to be one of the country’s top diplomats.
In an era where other forms of discrimination are particularly prevalent, height discrimination can be overlooked and, at times, dismissed completely. But even the president of the United States has shown that it is something that is openly abused, and it’s a wonder there’s not a bigger discussion surrounding it. Despite being an uncontrollable characteristic, it goes largely overlooked when it comes to anxiety disorders.
One study carried out in 2004 found that, with every inch of height, an average of $670 was added to a person’s annual salary
And the White House isn’t the only place where height bias is at play. According to a number of studies, a man’s height can affect how much he makes in the workplace. One study carried out in 2004 found that, with every inch of height, an average of $670 was added to a person’s annual salary. In fact, there’s even such a thing as “necktie syndrome“, which shows CEOs tend to be significantly taller than the average male.
Having greater respect for taller people might be inadvertently leading to higher wages
A similar study conducted at the University of Sydney compared the salaries of 20,000 people using indicators including height, and found the taller a person was, the more money they earned. Andrew Leigh, one of the authors, said: “Perhaps this has to do with status – having greater respect for taller people might be inadvertently leading to higher wages. Or, perhaps it is discrimination, with shorter people getting the same treatment in the labour market that women and minorities experience.”
But health psychologist Joanna Konstantopoulou says that this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy: “Studies indicate that height and weight are important factors in social and health status, so taller men take advantage socioeconomically, and as a result have better health and longer lives. But it isn’t clear if shorter men are more preoccupied by people’s views and already have lower self-esteem and poor body image – that keeps them from achieving their potential.”
In today’s society the media is generally more accepting of people who have previously been discriminated against or are in disadvantageous positions, but short guys aren’t one of them.
5’8” Humphrey Bogart allegedly wore five-inch platforms when filming Casablanca to appear taller than Ingrid Bergman
“Media often plays a negative role when it comes to the representation of shorter men,” says Konstantopoulou. “Short men might be affected if they lack confidence about their stature – and even if they haven’t thought about their height negatively, concerns can still arise through media exposure.”
Like most things, acceptance comes down to visibility. Our social biases are normally reflected in what we see on screen. Short men are normally characterized as offbeat and odd, like Rick Moranis’s Louis Tully in Ghostbusters and Danny DeVito’s Vincent Benedict in Twins; or uptight and neurotic, like Jason Alexander’s George Constanza (Seinfeld).
And the thing is, there is potential representation of guys who are on the shorter side in Hollywood, but for some reason it’s always been covered up: 5’8” Humphrey Bogart allegedly wore five-inch platforms when filming Casablanca to appear taller than Ingrid Bergman, and it’s long been rumored that apple boxes have been used to boost the height of actors like Tom Cruise (5’7”), earning them the nickname “man-makers”.
A good first step? Never calling them man-makers.
They’re Not Good At Scoring Dates
Data shared with FashionBeans by OK Cupid shows that being a shorter man is considerably less advantageous in the dating world, with taller guys receiving consistently more messages on the site and getting more of the good stuff, if you know what we mean.
Historically a woman’s desire to be with a taller man comes down to survival of the fittest
In fact, the worst of a woman’s bias against short men is no more obvious than in this dating piece in Grazia, in which an anonymous woman wrote: “Thank goodness I was sitting down at the bar when this little bundle walked up to the table I was waiting at. This guy was teeny… I told him from the off that I was doing research on Tinder because I didn’t want him to make a move on me as I would surely burst out laughing.”
With such opinions out there in the ether, is it a wonder that a man’s anxiety and a defensive nature about his height would be through the roof? Unsavory opinions aside, Konstantopoulou says that historically a woman’s desire to be with a taller man comes down to survival of the fittest: “In ancient times, women tended to select men who were taller and had a muscular stature – this was a sign they were strong enough to provide for their families,” she says.
They’re Less Intelligent
There’s little proof that aggression or anger expressed by shorter men is somehow intrinsically linked to height – after all, tall men have thrown their fair share of unreasonable tantrums (read: Christian Bale).
But there are (albeit weak) scientific correlations that suggest shorter people – both men and women – are, on average, likely to be less intelligent than their taller counterparts.
One argument is that this is down to height being an indicator of genetic health – so healthier people grow taller and are more intelligent. But at least one academic has admitted that “the real answer is we don’t know for sure.”
They Live Longer
So while shorter men face discrimination in the workplace, struggle to make romantic conquests, and are less intelligent, at least they get to spend a much longer lifetime lamenting this than those mere successful tall people who will die earlier (we can only hope from a height or money related accident).
Those below 5’4″ lived an average of two years longer than the taller men
Yes, plenty of studies have shown that shorter people live longer. Recent research, led by Professor Michel Poulain from Belgium and Dr Liusa Salaris from the University of Caglirai in Italy, analyzed the lives of 500 Sardinian men born between 1866 and 1915, and found those below 5’4″ lived an average of two years longer than the taller men.
It was concluded that the reason for this could be down to lower DNA damage stronger heart efficiency and greater cell replenishment potential. Way to go, short guys, you’re going to live forever!
How To Get Over It
“There can be a number of reasons why a man might be passed-over for a promotion at their job, turned-down by a woman or occasionally be the butt of a joke amongst friends but, for a man with anxiety about his height, there can be only one explanation,” Grimwade says. “With each and every supposed knock or set-back the conviction that they are victimized because of their short stature can be engrained deeper.”
If you’re finding yourself dealing with such feelings about your height, there’s plenty of things to try to help remedy this.
Many men of average or above average height will find ways to hold anxieties or feelings of inferiority about all kinds of other things. The anxiety is the problem, not the height
Grimwade, who works frequently with men on their social and interpersonal anxiety issues like their height, says it’s important for men to own their fears about their height: “There is a huge difference, internally and externally, between how someone who feels ashamed, inferior and embarrassed carries himself compared with a man who believes in himself and in his right to be at peace with himself.
“The beneficial impact of walking with pride and conviction is felt by ourselves and by those around us,” he advises.
“It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that many men of average or above average height will find ways to hold anxieties or feelings of inferiority about all kinds of other things. The anxiety is the problem, not the height. Fortunately, anxiety can be managed and self-acceptance achieved.”
Konstantopoulou recommends trying cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): “CBT can help to recognize any cognitive biases and negative thoughts that might be stopping men from feeling happier and more content with their height and body image. Through cognitive restructuring, they can begin to understand the negative thoughts they’re having.”