Just How Tall Are You, Anyway?

I've been six foot tall since I was twelve. My daughter's six foot. My son is six foot eight.

And, yes, at times it's been a real inconvenience. Especially when you're twelve, and female, but also over the years. Trying to buy clothes, for example, that are long enough. Or squeezing your legs into the less than ample space allowed on most airlines. Ducking under doors and tree limbs.

But, have we been discriminated against? I don't think so. Inconvenienced maybe, but not discriminated against.

Now, here come the short people. The height impaired, I guess, if I were politically correct. And the fat people. Should we call them weight impaired? No. Fat. They even call themselves fat. In public. In the State House.

This week, for the second time in two terms, I sat through another hearing on legislation that would ban discrimination against people because of their height or weight.

The legislation has been introduced three times. If passed, fat and short people would join the ranks of others, protected from discrimination due to race, color, religion, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or ancestry. Only Michigan has a statute protecting people from discrimination due to height or weight.

No tall people testified at the hearing. Just a short person.

Unfortunately she couldn't definitively answer the question "How short is short?" Under five foot? Under four ten? Is "short" the same for men and women?

Now, if you can't define something, how can you enforce it? If two people apply for a job, and you hire the tall one, have you discriminated against the short one? What if you just didn't like them? Or they had a miserable personality? How do you prove that?

And she wasn't sure how to define tall either. Although she had a folder of newspaper articles talking about the problems of short people she seemed disinterested in the problems of tall people.

She knew she didn't like people propping their elbows on her head or shoulder and declaring that she was a great armrest. But she didn't empathize with my son, who is incredibly weary of having people comment on his height.

And, believe it or not, there are regional differences in how people treat him. When he went to school in Iowa, people were more open. They'd blurt out, "How tall are you, anyway?"

In New England, he tells me, people try to be more polite. They'll ask, for example, "Do you play basketball?" As if that's important to know. Actually, he hates basketball and answers, as rudely as the question was asked, "No. Do you bowl?"

We moved on, from short to fat people. With a representative of the fat activist task force of NAAFA testifying. NAAFA is to fat people what the NAACP is to people of color. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

The spokesperson was a good witness, testifying that fat people deserve rights as much as gay people, and blaming the hatred of fat people on, first, the $37-billion a year diet industry and, second, the media and the artificial standard of beauty promoted.

Fat discrimination, she continued, affects the ability to obtain education, housing, and employment, and detracts from one's ability to marry. But, when asked, she couldn't remember one time when she had been discriminated against.

And, it's funny. The short person testifying said she was under four foot ten. I owned up to being six foot. And people regularly ask my son how tall he is. But, when I had an overwhelming urge to ask one more question, I resisted. The question was very simple.

Just how fat are you?

Maybe I'll ask her next time. And, I do think there will be a next time.

Massachusetts hasn't passed new discrimination laws since 1989, when the gay rights bill passed. Somehow, even though the House and Senate chairmen of the Commerce and Labor Committee claim to be height impaired, I don't predict success for the bill this year either.

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