The Fable of the Very Tall Woman
There was once a very tall woman. Even as a baby she was unusually long but it was only when she began walking that it became obvious she was far taller than other babies the same age. All through her school days, she was the tallest in her class. School photos showed the same thing each time; relegated to the back row and in the very middle to preserve symmetry, she stood out like a flagpole.
As a child it didn’t seem to matter too much as there were advantages to being taller than the others, such as being able to see over adults at the cinema but as she grew up she grew taller each year until her mother had to have her school uniforms specially made.
By her teens it was becoming a problem. Not only would no nice fashionable clothes ever come in her size, but also no boy would go out with her. The few taller boys refused to go out with a girl as tall as they were; they preferred shorter girls who had to look up to them. When she left school she was the tallest in her year.
As a young adult, the woman began to feel lonely and depressed and utterly despairing of her height. She had to have her clothes specially made and even when the latest fashions could be scaled up to her height, they looked all wrong on her. Her few friends complained constantly that they had to tilt their heads to be able to speak to her, even when she was sitting down with them. Strangers in the street would shout things at her, such as, “What’s the weather like up there?” and maddeningly obvious things like, “Ooh, you’re very tall aren’t you?” She had to duck to get into most houses or she would bang her head on doorframes. She even had to get a special bed to sleep in because ordinary ones were just too short.
One day, a friend said to her,
“Why don’t you bend down when you walk and then you wouldn’t look so tall?” and so she started to walk with a stoop and with her eyes looking always at the ground. This made her almost short enough to have a conversation without the other person getting a neck ache.
She found that if she walked with her knees bent, she would look even less tall. But people still stared at her in the street. She was very seldom asked out for a date and never for a second one, even though her face was as pretty as that of any young woman in the bloom of life. And one morning when she got up, every bone and joint in her body hurt her.
“I’m getting old without ever having been young,” she said to herself and miserable and in pain she went to the doctor, expecting him to diagnose arthritis.
After she had explained her symptoms, the doctor was silent for a long time. “Stand up for me, will you?” he said eventually and she did so, maintaining her usual posture.
“Hmm,” said the doctor. “That’s very interesting.”
He walked all round her, looking at her and then he put his hand on the curve where she bent her spine and gently made her straighten out.
Then he put a hand to her knees and made her legs straighten out too. She stood there in an agony of anxiety, expecting him to comment on her immense height. She screwed her eyes shut to fight back the tears of humiliation at being discovered to be so very tall.
When she opened them again she saw the doctor was smiling at her and she noticed for the first time that the doctor was himself a very tall man and they were eye to eye. For the first time in her life she was able to look another person in the eye without having to bend or have them stand on a chair.
“It’s not easy being tall,” said the doctor gently. “People think it must be but they don’t understand what it means. It’s not just being able to see over the heads of everyone else, or being able to change a light bulb without a chair. It’s very lonely being tall, isn’t it?”
Blinking back tears of relief the tall woman nodded.
“But pretending to be shorter doesn’t solve it,” the doctor continued. “It makes your body hurt, and everyone can see you look strange and different. It makes you look deformed and weird if you keep hunching up just so people don’t see how tall you are. They just notice how strange you look. Better just to be tall and be proud of it.”
As she left the doctor’s surgery, she caught a glimpse of herself in a window and immediately tried to minimise her height before remembering what the doctor said and then threw back her shoulders and walked tall for the first time in years. She may even have gone on to buy her first ever pair of elegant high-heeled shoes.
Bespoke, of course.
©Vivienne Tuffnell December 5th 2008