Jim, 6ft 3in, has never felt so small…but is being a loftier chap all it's cracked up to be? YouTuber Jim Chapman investigates...
For the first time in a long time, I am one of the shortest people in a room. You’d be forgiven for assuming that I am at a convention for giants, but I’m not. Instead, I’m surrounded by basketball players from the London Lions, and I suddenly realise being tall is great, and being around taller people can be unnerving. It doesn't help that the guys are training; shooting three-pointers and dunking with no effort. I am acutely aware of being forced to look up to make eye contact – I feel like ‘Mr Muscle’, pre digitised muscle-bound makeover. Flashbacks from pre- (and intra-) pubescent Jim ensue.
I was one of the smallest boys in my school, but when I began to grow, it happened quickly. Too quickly. My legs elongated so fast that my hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendons couldn’t keep up. The result was a painful, T-rex-ish walk for the next year while my muscles played an embarrassing game of catch-up with my bones.
A year or so later (when I could finally stand up straight), I was a tall person. I’m not a behemoth – many of you reading this will be taller than I am – but at 6ft 3in I am definitely above average. When people who watch my YouTube videos stop me on the street, nearly 100 per cent of the time the first thing they say is “Whoa, you’re much taller than I was expecting,” to which I usually reply, “Sorry… genetics."
I realise that apologising for my height is odd. Particularly when being tall is supposed to be a desirable trait, but bear with me for a moment while I hunch
down and awkwardly play the world’s smallest violin, because sometimes being tall is not all it’s cracked up to be. So, is height really a genetic advantage?
The upper hand
As well as being a scrawny, Golum-esque creature throughout sixth form and university, I briefly developed a condition known as pubic breast (a build-up of testosterone under the nipples, far from ideal in a PE changing room full of teenagers who have just discovered girls and “your mum” jokes). Needless to say, I was a virgin for much longer than I had originally hoped to be.
And I’m not the only tall man to experience issues. Journalist Cyrus Engineer, who is 6ft 6in, says: “It’s probably more of an issue in my head than in reality, but I’m often aware of being so tall. I feel awkward on packed Tubes, and I’m on edge in case I’m in someone’s way. And any long-haul flight is a near-breakdown experience if I can’t get emergency exit seats.”
As with Cyrus, I am aware that a lot of the issues I have with my height are all in my head. My twin brother (who is 6ft, and was also painfully slow in the puberty department) often says he wishes he was a tall as me. And there’s sociological support that taller men benefit in life over otherwise equal shorter men. Professor Daniel Freeman, who teaches clinical psychology at the University Of Oxford, told me that although people can prosper regardless of their height (hey, look at Tom Cruise), there is an association between height and markers of success. Studies have found tall people tend to do better at school, are more likely go to university – despite levels of intelligence – and, on average, they earn more; 2004 research by the University Of Florida estimated that a person who is 6ft tall is likely to earn more than £100,000 more than someone who is 5ft 4in throughout a 30-year career. When you consider this, it’s little wonder why people (particularly men) tend to over-estimate their height.
Then there’s attracting partners. The Italians have a saying “Altezza mezza bellezza”, meaning ‘height is half of the beauty’, and according to Professor Freeman, they’re right. Just last year, a US study by the National Bureau Of Economic Research found that men over 6ft 2in marry at higher rates.
I spoke to Pete Walker, who is 6ft 2in and can attest to physical stature playing well with women: “I’ve had girls like me purely for my height. It’s an immediate advantage, and the taller the better seems a common rule of thumb. Putting a girl’s bag in the upper compartment or reaching for a high shelf for her is an easy icebreaker." In a practical sense, being large has its benefits. I have walked into my kitchen countless times to find Tanya (my fiancée) running amok, clambering on the work surface, sending tea bags flying in an effort to reach the sugar (JUST MOVE IT TO A LOWER SHELF, YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE WHO USES IT!). I can see my way through a crowd with relative ease, and my friends can see me. Being tall means I stand out and people often recognise or remember me. Usually when I’m with my friends, who also make YouTube videos, and we get stopped by someone who watches, they will see me first.
And yet, this comes at a price. I’m at least 100 per cent more clumsy than anyone I know and, like Cyrus, I find air travel to be an uncomfortable game of human Tetris.
Pete also suffers with “being clumsy, clothes not fitting well, banging my head on low door frames and my feet getting cold sticking out of the duvet". Cyrus talked me through the ordeal of finding shoes for his size 15 feet, and how attracting romantic attention can be a burden. “Whenever a girl says to me at a bar, ‘Oh my God, you’re really tall,’ I freeze,” he says. “I’ve had 10 years of that and I still don’t know what the right reply is.”
Then there are the members of the London Lions basketball team. Guys who, at 6ft 7in, dwarf me and experience their own problems. Their height may have given them a career, but they are quick to point out that it’s not all slam dunks. There are run-ins with door frames, and the team need an entire row of coach seats each when travelling to games. Actually, that sounds pretty good.
More than anything, though, my time with the Lions taught me two things: firstly, no matter how tall, or short, you are, it’s all about embracing it. Hold your head as high as your shoulders will allow and take full advantage of your height. Be confident and use it as part of your arsenal to find the love of your life and the career of your dreams.
And secondly? No matter how lanky and clumsy you think you are, no matter how much you feel like you’re in someone’s way, or that everyone is looking at you, there is always someone taller than you. Well, unless you’re the tallest man in the world.
Follow Jim on Twitter @jimstweetings For tickets to watch London’s Only Professional Basketball Team, visit Londonlionsbasketball.com
[Photography: Philip Haynes; Rex]