Thursday, 4 March 2010

Why is it so hard for people and shops to accept tall women?

SHELLY BERRY: There’s a widely held assumption in our society that women enjoy shopping. Apparently we love trawling the shops looking for a bargain or the perfect outfit for a special night out. I admit I do enjoy the odd trip to the shops when I don’t need anything in particular, but fancy treating myself to something shiny.

Then there are the days when I realise that my everyday black pumps are on their last legs, or I need some dainty sandals for a friend’s wedding. Ah yes, I hear you cry, the trauma of finding the perfect footwear to complement the perfect outfit. But that isn’t my complaint. My complaint is my whopping size 9 feet.

Those of you with the same predicament will understand. For those of you with average size 6s, let me explain: most shoe shops only go up to a size 8. Which means those of us who have been blessed with clown feet are decidedly limited on where we can turn to in our hour of need.

There is a handful of retailers who have cottoned on to the big-footed woman’s need to have pretty shoes. Next have saved me from granny-fied, over-priced shoe hell on more than one occasion. This week I acquired a pair of funky black sequinned ballet pumps and am hankering after some rather fetching strawberry-print wellies. I just need to justify buying them.

But this is not where my shopping misery ends. You see, not only do I have huge feet, but I am also 5’11’’. Which means I take an inside leg measurement of about 34’’. Oh, poor you, the petite among you may mock. But you forget it is a lot easier to take up a pair of jeans than it is to lengthen them.

Luckily when I was a teenager I discovered Long Tall Sally and at the age of 15 was able to buy a pair of women’s trousers that actually covered my ankles for the first time since I was about 11. 15 years later the number of stores with a “Tall” section has increased. There are now at least five I can think of, anyway (again Next gets top marks).

So when I do need a new pair of bootlegs, at least I only have a handful of shops I have to traipse around, and just keep my fingers crossed that one of them has a pair that fit me on the waist AND around the bum – a problem I think all women are familiar with.

So, I have big feet and long legs. And I have managed to find satisfactory solutions to these shopping challenges. But, alas, it doesn’t end there.

Last weekend Him Indoors very kindly offered to buy me some new underwear for Valentine’s Day. Although touched by the romantic gesture, my heart sank at the thought. Ungrateful cow? Not exactly. The thing is, not only do my feet and legs offer me dilemmas on the high street, but so do my boobs. I have a broad back, but little tits. Hopeful that the former had miraculously shrunk and the latter filled out since my last underwear shopping trip, I headed over to M&S to get measured, fella in tow.

“So, what are you wearing now?” the slightly harassed bra lady asked me.


With a sharp nod she whipped out her tape measure and got down to business. I held my breath.

“Well, 38 is spot on ... but an A might be a bit big for you.”

Whaaaaat? Are you trying to tell me my boobs have shrunk to near non-existent? This is the equivalent to telling a man that his willy has dropped off. And what is worse, finding a 38A bra is near impossible. A 38AA ... it ain’t gonna happen. You see, according to the lingerie industry, women with broad backs don’t have little boobs. I am officially a freak of nature.

I emerged from the changing room with a brave smile plastered across my face. Him Indoors looked at his watch. He was clearly regretting his romantic gesture. 10 minutes later I returned with every bra I could find in a 38A, praying that my bambino baps would fill at least one of them. Luckily, they did. Just about. No chicken fillets needed.

An hour and a half after arriving, we finally left the shop, Him Indoors officially shopped out, me officially with smaller tits.

So ladies, there you have it. Struggle to find a pair of jeans that make your arse look great? Unconvinced by the shoes in season at the moment? Can’t choose between a balcony and a push up? Trust me, it could be a hell of a lot worse. Read more by Shelly.

SELINA NWULU: OK so here’s the deal: I am tall. And while memories of childhood taunts are long gone, I’m often left wondering why people seem to have such a problem with it.

I am a tall lady and, shock horror, along with that I have a brain. You wouldn’t think that such a combination would be cause for concern. Maybe it could even be a cause for celebration, but sometimes I feel like I'm treated like some Frankenstein freak from the wild west.

Picture the scene: hundreds of small villagers running haphazardly, screaming: “Who’s that! She’s tall and has something to say! She’s broken the stereotypical mould! She’s not dainty and precious! She can open the jam jar by herself! Ruuunnn!”

I’m exaggerating, I know. But believe it or not, on some level this is true. I’ve managed to get over the same old tired wisecracks from the condescending family friend (“What’s the weather like up there, chief?”) and childhood nicknames such as Daddy Longer Legs (I lied – I’m not over it). But I do have a problem with the frank male friends who say things like “Selina, you’e OK, you are still a little under 6 foot so you’re not that bad ... just so long as you are not over 6 foot ... A woman over 6 foot? Ha! Now, that’s just weird!” I spoke to someone who actually shuddered at the idea. It seems to be this deep irrational fear that people, men in particular, seem to have.

Sure, equality seems all very good on well on the packet. “Men and women are equal but different” is the line. Man is strong and heroic while the woman is weak, dainty and mild. A Polly Pocket sized shape of loveliness. Suddenly here comes the modern age and that same woman can look you in the eyes because she is the same height as you and doesn’t need your protection and suddenly man gets all panicky and insecure. It’s really ridiculous!

And heaven forbid that I would want to wear heels. People look at me like I’m insane: why would someone like me want to bother with something like that? What’s the point, right? Never mind that those shoes go well with my outfit. I should spend my whole life glued to Croc pumps, it would seem.

I remember at school a woman actually suggested that being over 5’7” was unladylike. Is there some kind of underground network of ladylike, pearl-wearing dames who are handing out charts and posters full of this ridiculous and nonsensical information? Perhaps there is some kind of chart similar to the ape-to-man chart about human evolution – but instead of the ape there’s a picture of a tall woman (in my head I’m picturing someone like Vicky Pollard), rough and unkempt, and then the woman gets progressively smaller until we reach the other end of the scale where there is a pocket-sized, Joan Collins-esque woman?! It’s almost as though this silly woman was telling me that because I’d skipped the obligatory elocution classes that of course every young lady should have, being tall is some kind of punishment with which I now have to contend.

When I was living in Italy – maybe this is my fault for choosing to live in a country renowned for its short people – I was mid salsa class, watching the instructor teach everyone a new move. My dance partner, who wasn’t nice so he shall be named Short Arse, stopped the whole class and said “Excuse me, but how am I supposed to dance with her?” while looking me up and down with disdain. Well, I’m sorry, Short Arse, but if you had a bit of rhythm and a back bone it wouldn’t be a problem! Don’t blame my height!

The icing on the cake was at a night out, not so long ago. I was, stop the press, wearing heels, and I was getting my groove on and cutting a few shapes on the dance floor. A man came up to me – he wasn’t very nice either and so shall be named Short Arse Two – and said: “I was going to ask you to dance with me but as you are wearing heels, I won’t. How many people approach you in those heels?”

I think my stunned rage couldn’t quite believe the presumptuous gall of Short Arse Two, but I turned and said something along the lines of “keep walking, Shorty. I like being tall and, heels on or off, I wouldn’t dance with someone who looks like the third Chuckle Brother” and then I casually walked back to join some friends at the bar.

You see, that’s the thing: never underestimate the power of a tall girl’s strut, especially when she is wearing heels. Read more by Selina.