Because of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, one’s superficial overview of a person’s appearance can mold (in the recipient) the expected result.
In particular, a person's height triggers a whole set of expectations. According to Stephen S. Hall, author of Size Matters: “The public uncritically ascribes positive traits to tall people -- more intelligent, more likable, more dependable, and better leaders.”
Height prejudice may even surpass gender and racial prejudice. The molecular structure of prejudice comes in infinite variations.
One solution to ‘short-height’ discrimination could start with Hollywood: the perpetrator of large-scale stereotypes through time. Successful overtures in this direction have been tried in the past. On the set of the sci-fi series, Stargate SG-1, Major General George Hammond defined a character who was both short and stout. In addition, he was totally bald -- long before shaven heads became trendy. I must admit, when I first witnessed his character, I assumed it was created for comic relief.
The decision to cast an actor like Don S. Davis in the role of General Hammond was, in retrospect, a brilliant example of Hollywood ‘shock’ casting. The fact that a short, bald, almost-fat man had achieved the status of supreme military commander had (until then) seemed impossible. The sheer implications of this experiment triggered a response in the audience of ironic respect. A man of small stature had achieved great stature, despite others’ low-brow expectations. (Perhaps the precursor to George Hammond was William Conrad in Cannon.)
The best way to transform social prejudice is to launch a new set of expectations. The paradoxical result of this tactic resembles a form of creative Jiu Jitsu.
To see depictions of short people in Hollywood who are NOT -- as is so often the case -- displayed as thugs, or as fools, is a joy to behold.
Take, for example, the Operations Manager (Hetty Lange) in the TV series, NCIS: Los Angeles. Linda Hunt plays a resourceful, resilient, strong and intelligent character -- displayed in a forceful role.
Similar adjectives could describe the skillful representation of a fictional U.S. President, Walter Emerson (played by 5’5’ Kevin Pollak), stealing scenes in the 1999 movie, Deterrence.
Let’s not forget the energetic performance of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future. (Of course, he was representing a high school student -- hence the shortness of his character. But still!)
The main reason that so many Hollywood writers use stereotypes is to ‘thumbnail’ a character -- without needing to fill in psychological, or other time-consuming, details. Some writers prefer to use fashion or grooming tactics to signal a character’s interior self, but perhaps all methods of ‘pigeon-holing’ remain questionable.
The most insidious side-effect of negative social judgement lies in the victim’s self-internalization of that role. Constant exposure to downgraded expectations leads to an inevitable cycle of self-defeating results.
The time is long overdue to shatter the ‘short-person’ stereotypes and to rewrite the script.
I am 5’5” tall and approve of this message.
Stephen S. Hall, Size Matters, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2006, p. 15
Author: John Corona
John Corona is a freelance writer interested in the mind-body interface, human perception, and self-image.