Do you remember how when you were a kid in school, your teacher would ask you to fall in line according to height? I was always in front of the line for as long as I can remember. I recall thinking to myself, “Just be patient. Next year, you’ll be behind someone else.” A year passed. So did another year, yet there I was still, standing behind no one. There was no other way around it: I was short.
Someone once told me, “Maganda ka sana, pero…” By the way their voice trailed off, I knew what came next. Pero maliit ka. Or, if they’re trying to be nice, they use the word "petite." It was as if being small was a handicap, like my height —or the lack of it— was the only thing hindering me from being considered conventionally attractive. At 23 years old, I’ve barely cleared 4’11”. To add to that, I have a soft heart-shaped face that quickly fills out to a round shape when I’ve had one too many cupcakes. When I’m not wearing makeup or heels, I get mistaken for a college freshman on a regular basis. My beautiful baby sister is four years younger than me, and has a good two inches on me. We regularly get mistaken for being of the same age, or she as the older one.
Being short was always my signifier. One time, at a fast food chain, after waiting for my order to arrive while seated, I discovered that the cashier had scribbled, “The small girl in a checkered top,” describing what I was wearing to a hapless server navigating the busy crowd. “Short” has always been attached to my identity, like a bad punchline: “The short writer,” “The cute but short girl,” as if people could be referring to just about anyone else without it.
I took a long, hard look in the mirror, noticing all my flaws and comparing them to a mental checklist of what other people considered beautiful or perfect: Legs that went on for days. A perfectly slim waist. Fairer skin and doe-shaped eyes. Plump lips. For the longest time, I wished to be like those leggy, waif-like supermodels, the very same ones that you hear boys whispering about. Until one day, it hit me: why am I trying to be beautiful for other people? Why am I trying to meet other people’s standards of beautiful, when I could just be me?
There’s this quote by Amy Poehler: “Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.” I’ve long accepted that I will probably never go on Asia’s Next Top Model, nor will I be as gorgeous as Kendall Jenner. But I am beautiful, and I do have my better days, like when my skin clears up and my hair decides to cooperate, and when I’m lucky enough to perfect my winged liner in one go.
Fashion may not exactly favor the petite, but I’ve learned to work with my height. I once had a phase, as all petite girls do, of collecting sky-high heels, just so I can be the same height as everyone else. These were of course at the risk of getting blisters on a regular basis, or twisting my ankle, even. Now, while I haven’t exactly thrown my heels away, I’ve embraced sneakers and flats, and I just feel as empowered wearing them as I do with heels. I’ve welcomed the challenges of shopping for my height, going beyond trends and looking for styles that complement my stature.
To all my fellow petite girls, never be ashamed of your height. Make each shelf-climbing task feel like an adventure. Let your feet dangle above a high chair. Embrace your baby-faced features. Experiment with trends, but find your personal style that reflects who you are. Make friends with the seamstress who regularly alters your hemlines. Have that special someone carry you on his shoulders at a music festival. We’ll probably never be Victoria’s Secret model material or even a pageant queen, but that’s okay—beautiful as those long-legged women are, so are we. More importantly, we are more than what people see on the outside.
As they say, we’re not short—we’re fun-sized, and we pack a whole lot of personality in one tiny body.