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A tale of petitism

Laker Notes


KWARTLERHeight and I are star-crossed lovers.

When I was younger, my doctor would always pull out that little growth graph and show me how I was “this close” to being on the chart. I wanted to believe her, but we both knew that my petitism was permanent, thanks to genetics.

Being petite bothers me because it is an obvious difference from my peers. A crooked nose or chipped tooth isn’t as irritating as having to crane your neck to look people in the eye.

Throughout school, I’ve been the punchline of short puns and jokes, making me wonder if my height helps or hurts me.

The first advantage to being vertically challenged involves volunteering. During the summer, I volunteer at the Oregon Zoo, where I work with goats, snakes, hedgehogs and tortoises. I’m more approachable to the younger visitors, since I don’t tower over them; instead, I’m more at eye level. This doesn’t just apply to human kids, but goat kids too. I learned this after one of the goats decided to thank me for a walk by placing his hooves on my collarbone to look me in the eye. And he is a pygmy goat.

Petitism is helpful with future careers too. I may have a future as a spy; put me in a crowd and I become Carmen Sandiego, because you’ll never see me again. In addition, being small heightens my chance of becoming an Olympic medalist. I’m not talking about gymnastics or figure skating, but hide and seek (which I assume will be an Olympic sport for 2016). When you are my size, you can easily take hide and seek to the next — lower — level. Why hide behind the door when you can hide in the disc slot of your DVD player?

Unfortunately, being short isn’t all fun and games (although we do play more by looking like kids). First, there is the awful expectation that people must compensate for their petitism by wearing high-heeled shoes. This is akin to expecting a bear to walk into a bear trap, as heels mangle one’s feet beyond recognition. Yet, I sometimes long for heels when, at 17, I still cannot access half of the kitchen cabinets. I asked my mom what is stored above the 5-foot-high part of the kitchen, but that’s something she’s yet to discover.

Contrary to popular belief, petite people are not furniture or food. Having our heads used as armrests causes petites to reflexively kick other people’s shins (or ankles if we can’t reach that high). There are also the hurtful names like “fun-size” (do I look like a candy bar?) and “travel-size.” However, if I’m travel-size, does that mean I can get in the short TSA line?

When it comes to carpooling, I’m always the one in the middle, so I get to maintain awkward eye contact with the driver. I never have to bow my head to avoid blocking the rearview mirror. At school, there is a tacit agreement that I must sit in the classroom’s first three rows if I ever want to know what my teacher looks like and not be habitually marked absent. As for sports, I tried softball once, but got bored of playing shortstop when I realized that I couldn’t stop people simply by being short.

My height has taught me to accept the shoes that I’m stuck with (thankfully not heels), because everyone has something about their appearance that irritates them. In my case, I’ve learned to laugh along with the short jokes, embrace the advantages and recognize that my 5-foot stature doesn’t limit me, except in the kitchen.

Lake Oswego High School junior Sarah Kwartler is one of two Laker Notes columnists. Contact her at education@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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