Nicholas Kulish is 6 foot 8 inches. Towering about the average American height of 5 foot 8, society is simply not built for him. As if a tight plane seat isn’t burdensome enough, “Why do we bob and weave around the New York City subway in a strange dance?,” Kulish writes, “Are we performing for money from our fellow passengers? No, we’re just trying not to hit our heads on the metal bars that others reach up to grab.”
It’s not easy being a giant, or a little person, or any anomaly for that matter. What we know today as ‘average’ goes back to Belgian astronomer/mathematician Adolphe Quetelet, who in 1817 aggregated the mean chest size of five thousand Scottish soldiers, setting a precedent for human statistics. Abraham Lincoln mass-produced uniforms for the Union army during the Civil War. The US military also went on to standardize both uniforms and airplanes in 1926, “the distance to the pedals and the stick, and even the shape of the flight helmets.” Thus was born the bell curve.
While homogenizing average body types help simplify manufacturing and designing infrastructure, the industrial mindset makes it a challenge for outliers to thrive.
“Tall people are always trying to blend in, to keep our giant feet from tripping you at the movie theater, our elbows from cracking your heads on the dance floor. Much of our time is spent trying to shrink, to alleviate the extreme conspicuousness that is our condition.”
Normal is boring
Height compels Kulish’s identity, whether he likes or not. It is a part of him he’s come to accept and appreciate, acknowledging his bigness. Brooklynites call him Nowitzki or Porzingis out in public for being the only white guy with arms like tree branches reaching out into a sea of ants. You’d have to be ground level and face to face to pinpoint Lionel Messi in a crowd. But there are some advantages to tallness too; he can see what most people can’t.
If you invite us into your homes we will know what the top of your refrigerator looks like. (You should clean it. It’s been a while. Trust me.) We do have our uses. It probably goes without saying that we should be taking pictures for you at concerts, not to mention portraits of you, since the downward angle is the most flattering.
There is no shame in being tall, nor short, for the matter. No one wants to be called a Frankenstein nor a carnie with small hands. Being different makes one forcibly pay attention, develop sympathy for others who have similar disadvantages, and find new ways of surviving that makes them more nimble than others. The weird and different underdogs may have to work a little harder, but in doing so, they are developing advantages that normal folks can’t replicate.
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