A few days ago I was in a local shopping mall with Mrs K and the little Kirsties. The Abbeycentre, it’s called, formerly known to local shoppers as the Shabbycentre, but subject of a few facelifts in recent years and quite a pleasant shopping experience these days. Anyway, we had all had lunch in the food hall and were doing a bit of browsing in Primark. The older of my two daughters, aged 13, wanted to go there to see if they had got in their spring/summer range of clothing. We arrived to discover that yes, they had. She didn’t actually want to know what was in the range of clothing, just to check that they had got rid of their winter coats and jumpers. But since we were there anyway, Mrs K decided to have a bit of a browse for summer clothing for her and the kids. In the teen section, she noticed a pair of loudly patterned jogging-style trousers and remarked that it was like something out of the 1980’s. She then went off on a little reminiscence (cue swirly flashback video effect)…
“I had a pair exactly like that when I was about 15. There was a matching top as well. In fact, the first time I wore them out was the first time that a man ever whistled at me.”
“Really?” I replied, “When was the last time?”
“Not for a long time… (pause) …Men don’t notice me any more, I’m just some oul doll now”
(For the uninitiated, an Oul Doll – pronounced “owl doll” is a Northern Ireland (or Norn Iron) expression meaning a woman of an indeterminate age, that age being older than the person speaking about her and older than the age at which she deserves an identity of her own. The three stages of a female life: girl, woman, oul doll.)
And so I inadvertently sent a crestfallen Mrs K into a spiral of middle-aged ennui. Little Kirsty Jr did try to cheer her up by saying that Daddy noticed her, and that’s what’s important, but it didn’t help. And I wasn’t done yet. I thought now would be a good time to tell her a little bit of what I wrote about last week;
“A man shouted ‘Nice legs, darlin’!’ at me in Great Victoria Street last week”
She was not impressed. “That’s not fair! How come you get male attention and I don’t?”
“Because I’m gorgeous”
That was a joke of course. Realistically, there is clearly another reason at play in me getting attention. And it is that being a woman over six feet tall gives one a bit of a head start in the attention-grabbing stakes. This isn’t necessarily a great thing because most of the time I’d just prefer to go unnoticed. It’s something that I have agonised over in the past. The single worst thing about my body. Its size. Or height, rather, it’s not particularly wide or hefty. But I have had a hang-up about my height on and off ever since I started this journey just over two years ago. However what Mrs K has made me realise is that it doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. What I need to do is make it a plus, embrace my height. Be proud of being an unusually tall woman.
I am of course aware that at 6’2″ I’m fairly tall for a man, but not exceptionally so. The taller end of normal heights. However I rarely if ever encounter a woman who is the same height as me. Perhaps three times in the last year have I seen a woman of equal height to me. From time to time when my height has been weighing on my mind, well-meaning people have tried to help out by saying that there are lots of women my height or taller, you see them all the time. Well no, you quite clearly don’t, and negating my concerns in that way is frustrating and patronising. From the perspective of someone maybe in the 5’6″ to 5’9″ range (and there are lots of you), I would hazard that once you get a couple of inches above one’s own height, a person is just “tall”. Someone 5’11” is “tall”. Someone 6’2″ is “tall”, so we just get lumped in together. So the shorter person might even believe that lots of women are my height, but they aren’t. I know, because if they were I would be seeing them and their eyes would be on the same level as mine. And except on the very rarest of occasions, they aren’t. Don’t believe me? Here’s a graph from usefulstats.com showing the height distribution curves for men and women.
I am 74 inches tall. On the male line, I’m comfortably taller than average, but still quite a bit from the very top end of the distribution. However, on the female line I come in where it’s almost flatlining at the end, so few are we six-foot-plus girls in number. Like it or not, as a woman I am exceptionally tall, unusually so. There will always be a handful of outliers (like several female professional basketball players, for example) but the average person could go months at a time without seeing another woman of equal or greater height to me. That is a fact, and the statistics bear me out. This does not have to be a bad thing.
I was out in Belfast City Centre yesterday afternoon. Andrea had given me advance warning of a sale in Next, so I proceeded in that direction straight from the car park, and as usual I appeared to be attracting little attention. For what it’s worth I didn’t find anything that caught my eye in the Next sale, and the shop was so busy it wasn’t the most pleasant shopping experience. I tried M&S, who also had quite a few items on the sale rail. There was a dress that I quite liked, but I didn’t need it, and it would have just been buying something for the sake of buying something. However, I mention M&S because for reasons best known to themselves they have mirrors at the side of the escalators between the 4 floors of the building. And as I approached the escalator on the top floor to come back down again, I looked across to see a line of 5 or 6 women, of whom I was one, all walking along in single file towards this escalator. I was head and shoulders taller than the rest of them. However that aside, it struck me that I didn’t look out of place. I didn’t look unusually bulky or top-heavy, move in a questionable manner or look curiously ungainly. In short, I didn’t look like anything other than a very tall woman. It gave me a big boost. Normally I see other women a long way below myself and feel very conspicuous about it, but being able to see us all in the mirror made me think that I’m just part of the tapestry of life, and that the overwhelming majority of people are much too concerned with their own life to worry about whether my unusual height could be an indicator of something else or not.
There is something I can think of that could be an indicator of “something else-ness”. Acting in a strange or inauthentic manner. Like being ashamed of my height, walking round stooping, looking about nervously to see if anyone is looking at me, hiding between rails of clothing until a group of people go past. If I feel confidence in myself and yes, in my height, then I will act like I have every right to be wherever I am, and other people will assume that there’s nothing unusual about me whatsoever. So the short version of all this is: Being tall isn’t a problem. Thinking that being tall is a problem, is a problem.
That’s the main bit of the post done, but there’s just time for a quick restaurant review. After yesterday’s no-shopping 90 minutes round Belfast, I met up with Michelle and, for the first time in nearly a month, Andrea for a meal at our old favourite haunt, The Plough Inn at Hillsborough. We got a nice little table for three, and although the bar downstairs was packed to the gills and extremely noisy thanks to people watching something called “rugby” (no, me neither) upstairs in the restaurant was a haven of calm. At least it was until around the time dessert arrived, when a man with a voice like a pompous foghorn came and sat at the bar behind us and proceeded to conduct a conversation with the people at the table next to us. That’s right, he was carrying on a conversation at full volume with people at a different table. Prat.
My meal was possibly the best I have had at the Plough. My starter (which Andrea also ordered) was pulled confit duck leg, with chorizo, warm potatoes, red onion and a sherry vinaigrette. Everything went together beautifully, with the salty spicy chorizo a wonderful addition to the mix. Quite substantial too, for a starter. My main was a generous portion of melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked brisket with creamed potatoes, carrots and shallots in a red wine gravy. The beef was falling apart on my fork, so tender I could have turned the fork round and mashed it. No knife required, no teeth required. And the taste? Zing! A wonderful rich warm gravy with bags of depth. Mmm. For dessert, a perfectly agreeable slice of apple pie with custard, sorry crème anglaise, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Andrea had been given the wrong ice cream with her dessert trio, so was brought a separate portion of honeycomb ice cream in another bowl. It was a very generous separate portion, so I assisted her in finishing it by taking a scoop for myself. Very good.
After coffee, Michelle attracted a waitress’s attention so we could settle up, which gave me the opportunity to use a variation on an old favourite joke – isn’t it ironic that Andrea and I both had the duck, but it was Michelle who asked for the bill. Ho and, if you will, ho.
When I finally arrived home shortly before midnight, changed into my man-costume again, I managed to trip over my own feet twice in the five-metre walk from the car to the garage door. After nine hours in heels I couldn’t remember how to walk in flat shoes. I kept putting my toes down first, then tripping over them when there’s no heel to balance it out. If I was a better writer, I would now be able to insert a clever and insightful metaphor based upon that stumble, but I’m just Kirsty so you’ll have to do without.
Until next time