In promotional interviews for the film Spider Man: No return home, which premiered in early 2021, the two leads and real-life couple Zendaya and Tom Holland got used to a repeated question: did they have issues with their height difference? How, for example, did they kiss? The size difference is not huge. The actors differ in height only by six centimeters. But Zendaya is taller than Tom, in a culture where that’s not normal.
Both valiantly followed the polls of the investigators. Holland stoically resisted jokes about being a short man (he’s 1.73′ tall). He sometimes broaches the subject himself, once catching the attention of social media users by liking a post alleging that shorter men have more sex. From time to time, the couple assures their fans that the difference does not cause them any problems in their relationship, in case anyone is worried. And for Zendaya, it’s nothing new: her mother is taller than her father.
In reality, however, heterosexual couples in which the man is the shorter partner are unusual. Science calls this phenomenon the norm of taller men. Its explanation is partly statistical: on average, men are taller than women. But studies have shown that the difference in average height isn’t the only reason a couple with a taller woman stands out. Korea University’s Department of Economics conducted a study in 2015, published in the Journal of Comparative Human Biology, in which 10,000 unrelated people were randomly combined into pairs. The percentage of men taller than their partners was lower than the same statistic examining a population of couples. That is, the size difference in male and female pairs tends to be greater when conscious choice is involved. If the mix was just random — at least in Korea — pairings in which the woman is taller would be far more common.
A 2014 study in the Family Matters Diary dissected the social and cultural significance of male height. 57.1% of women indicated that a man’s size was important to them. In contrast, only 40% of men said a woman’s height matters to them. The taller the man surveyed, the more likely he was to say that height didn’t matter. Among women, the opposite happened: taller women cared more. The famous taller man standard was in action.
The study also asked respondents about the reasons for their preferences. The reasons vary a lot between men and women: women talk about preferring tall men to protect themselves and feel more feminine or, according to 10% of respondents, to be able to wear heels. Carla, 30, explained that “as beautiful as it is, if it’s small, it doesn’t work. Kissing a little man reminds me of hugging a child. If he hugs me from above, it gives me a sense of protection,” she says. In this study, men mentioned the physical discomfort of being with extremely short women, as well as a desire to avoid the stigma associated with dating a taller woman.
Outside of dating, studies associate height with other characteristics considered attractive. According to a recent study by the University of Jaén, university graduates are on average three centimeters taller than those who have only completed primary level. Taller people make more money, according to a 2015 study from the University of Chicago. Both of these results are because, statistically, they are more likely to come from wealthier families and more stable environments where there has been better access to food and nutrition for generations.
Height attraction (in men)
Knowing that women prefer their potential partner to be tall, it’s no surprise that height data is essential for men on dating apps. Men tend to share their size on apps much more frequently than women. The question has become a cliché: three years ago, as an April Fool’s joke, Tinder announced that it was going to implement a height verification system. “One time a guy didn’t put his height on Tinder. He seemed nice. Before the date, I told him I was 6’1” to see what he would say and he m replied, “I like tall girls,” Laura explains. “When we met at a bar, he came right over my elbow. I don’t know what face I made, because the waiter gave us shots without saying a word. I drank mine and left. Then he called me superficial on Tinder. It bothered me that he said he only liked tall girls.
Psychologist and sex therapist Nayara Malnero, a specialist in couples therapy and male sexual dysfunction, says she has followed men in her practice who had self-esteem issues because of their short stature. She also had patients who didn’t provide their height data in the app but tended to bring up the subject in conversation. “That revelation, that they’re short, very often causes the woman they’re talking to not to want to go on.” Three years ago, Catalina told her therapist that she felt guilty about her obsession with tall men because she was “aware of the patriarchal bias in the matter, the idea that he protects her”, as if she could “save her from something”. ,” she explains. Her therapist’s response calmed her down: “She told me that we have sexual preferences just like we prefer cumbia to techno, or one food to another. These are acquired cultural tastes. , but I shouldn’t blame myself for that.
This may then mean that only those whose data places them above the average specify their height. This is the case of Santiago, a 28-year-old Tinder user, who wears his height “because it’s an attractive element”. In fact, that’s the only information he provides in the “About me” section. “A lot of women don’t want to know the size or the body, but I’m looking for a more sensual and daring woman who likes a tall man. I try to cause the effect of carnal desire, “he says. He publishes his height for the same reason his profile picture shows him fresh out of the shower with ripped abs: because he thinks they’ll attract the type of woman he’s looking for.
But not all tall men who put their height on their Tinder profile are doing it just for sex. Xevi, 37, says when he was an active user of the app about seven years ago, he specified his height for another reason. “I am two meters tall, so the chances of tall girls giving a like have increased. I also didn’t have full body photos,” he recalls. In this case, he cared about the size of his potential partners, he admits, “mainly for a practical matter: so as not to have back pain or become hunchbacked”, one of the reasons which appeared in the study mentioned. above. The trick worked and most of the girls he dated were taller than average, although he ended up with shorter girls as well. He clarifies that he has nothing against them. “One little girl even asked me on the first date why I had my height on Tinder and if it was a problem that she was short,” he says. He told her that it was easier for him to be with tall girls, but that “he didn’t really have a problem with short girls if there was good chemistry” and that they understood.
Likewise, just because a guy doesn’t display his height on his Tinder profile doesn’t mean he’s necessarily below average. “Focusing a lot on physical information can make it seem like it’s what matters most to you, and despite the app’s reputation for superficiality, a lot of users aren’t there for that,” says Daniel , 36, who measures 1.86 and says that he does not include his height precisely for this reason. “If you put on your size, you’re already giving the impression that you’re selling your overall physique,” he says. Unlike Santiago, that was not what he wanted to convey. When another user asked him, he shared it, but it’s not important to him. However, he often received the question. Paula, who is 1.80m tall, says she was able to “find out quickly even though they didn’t have that information in her profiles. I didn’t have it either,” although she makes it clear that she doesn’t care if a man is shorter than her: “I usually like them tall, but there are always exceptions,” she says. .
Despite all of this, heterosexual couples like Zendaya and Tom Holland show that any insistence on men’s height is a cultural construct. And Tinder’s first impressions showcase is held to the beauty standards of our image-obsessed culture: just as it glorifies bodies unattainable for women, it does so for men too.