Monday, June 17, 2024

The long and short of height preferences in Mexico

I came across an article today that piqued my interest and set my imagination a-runnin’. You know how it happens: something you haven’t really sat down to think about, ever, is suddenly presented from just the right angle, and down the rabbit hole you go!

The subject? Height. Particularly, the importance of height in men.

Always a sociologist at heart with a special interest in the role that physical beauty plays in our day-to-day lives, it occurred to me that I’ve really only thought about women when it comes to the social implications of beauty standards.

Which is pretty fair. I mean, women certainly do bear the brunt of it: our looks, our weight, our shape — physical attractiveness matters for women to a much higher degree than it does for men. In very broad strokes, women are judged by how they look while men are judged by what they do. While it’s somewhat common to see attractiveness “mismatches” — in which the woman is clearly the more attractive of the two, the opposite is quite rare.

But there’s one area in which certain men are just as helpless as homely women: height. As Pravina Rudra explained in her article, “Why Women Don’t Date Short Men,” even liberal, open-minded and sensitive women are not afraid to disparage men of a certain stature, often justifying themselves by complaining of “short-man syndrome” and the fact that it’s just one flimsy disadvantage among mostly advantages that men have as a class, so what’s the big deal?

This got me thinking about Mexico.

Mexicans are not known for their tall stature. The average height for males in Mexico is between 5 feet, 4 inches and 5 feet, 7 inches, depending on where you are; very generally speaking, those with more prominent European ancestry tend to be taller. For women, the average height is 5 feet, 2 inches.

I’m 5 feet, 4 inches and have been about the same height or slightly taller than most of them men I’ve come across in Mexico. I’m taller than most women I know, though I’m pretty much the exact average height for a U.S. woman. Everyone I’ve dated, I’ll admit, has been at least slightly taller than me, even if it’s by an inch or two. No one has been more than five inches taller or so.

I’ve noticed that the tenets of Rudra’s article don’t seem to hold quite as true in Mexico as they do in the more northern North American countries. Here, I routinely see couples in which the woman is unselfconsciously taller. I also often see women in comically tall high heels, making them appear taller than their partners even if they’re not actually. The men at their sides don’t seem to be in the least sheepish about having to look up at their partners.

It’s something I’ve rarely seen in my own country, where I’ve heard women say, “Oh, I can’t wear high heels out because then I’d be taller than my husband!” as if surpassing his height were the equivalent of telling everyone how long he takes in the bathroom. A friend of mine, married to a man who’s perhaps half an inch shorter than she is, tells me she often gets comments from her friends and family when they visit the States together — mostly rude ones in which they express their disbelief that she’d choose a mate shorter than she is. 

She does not receive those comments here.

But in Mexico, this kind of height difference doesn’t seem to bother people. It’s something I find both refreshing and slightly odd in a culture where machismo maintains a tight and insidious grip despite our best efforts to shake it off; it’s like seeing a tough-guy motorcycle gang leader attending a poetry reading or something. 

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t Mexican women with clear preferences. One friend of mine only dates men a full head taller than her, bonus if they’ve got a big belly. There aren’t a lot of men this size around here, plus she wants them to have plenty of money, so it’s a small market.

But most of my women friends are partnered with men about their size — sometimes slightly taller, sometimes slightly shorter. They routinely wear shoes that make them appear very clearly taller, which tells me that height in men is just not the big deal here that it is where I’m from. It’s not as strongly correlated to concepts of “manliness” here, where larger-than-life personalities and attitudes take the reins instead.

This, of course, is smart: if women here insisted on only dating men above, say, 5 feet, 10 inches, a lot of them would simply be single without wanting to be. Interestingly, I’ve met more women self-conscious about their shorter statures than men, hence the 9-inch platform/heel combos and those ridiculous-looking tennis shoes in style right now sitting on top of 3-inch platforms (I do not understand fashion).

The fact that there’s not such an emphasis on height for men here, is a good thing. And the idea that an emphasis on height is an antiquated notion whose time to part has come is catching on, examples of the disadvantages of being tall abounding. 

Taller people, for example, don’t live as long on average. They also consume more (they need more calories) and pollute more because they create more waste. And besides, as Mara Altman explains in her charming editorial, “There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be Short,” “Short people don’t just save resources, but as resources become scarcer because of the earth’s growing population and global warming, they may also be best suited for long-term survival.”

As for me, personally, I’ll admit: the primitive, animal part in me loves being able to snuggle up into my slightly taller and visibly physically stronger partner. Unlike most of my paisanas, though, I’m actually a bit repelled by men who look like they could snap me in two with minimal effort (scary!), so the generally smaller stature of Mexican men suits me just fine. 

Now, if only they could lower the height of the kitchen cabinets around here.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sarahedevries.substack.com

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