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FIRST PERSON / Orange County

All 4-1 and One for Tall

June 05, 1998|MEGHAN O'DELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Excuse me--do you play basketball?"

No. Not again.

I turn around to face yet another curious mind. This is one of the first questions I am always asked.

"No, I don't." Sorry to disappoint you.

"How about volleyball?"

Most asked question No. 2.

"Nope."

Such is life as a tall teenage girl.

It's not easy being 6 feet tall. You have to be able to feel confident about being different. The average 16-year-old girl is a mere 5 feet 3, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That makes makes me above above-average. It's kind of lonely too. According to another health survey, only one in 100 girls younger than 20 is taller than 5 feet 11.

But there's good and bad to everything, so allow me to list the pros of being 16 and gargantuously tall:

* Sight zone. I am able to see over the biggest hair at the movies.

* Independence. I can reach the clothing that is hung high on the racks at the mall. No asking for assistance or the metal pole for me.

* Renown. Everyone knows me as "the tall one."

* Career possibilities. I fit the height requirements for modeling. (Now if only I could fit the teeny dress size requirement . . .)

Now, here come the cons:

* Showering. The shower heads in hotels are always set at midget range, forcing me to do a complete backbend.

* Trying to hide. It never works.

* Low ceilings. I feel like Gulliver, living among the Lilliputians in the land of miniatures.

* Shopping. Floor-length skirts are ankle-length on me, and short skirts are too short to sit in. As for shoes, have you ever seen a pair of size 11 flats and said, "Those are so cute!"? Shoes with any sort of heel make me feel like RuPaul.

* Boys. Most of them are too short, and the few who are tall consort exclusively with girls who can date anyone--shorter girls.

* Prom. Tall girls and dances don't go hand in hand.

Since I have been to dances with boys who are shorter than I am, I've had to worry about my up 'do and strappy shoes adding a few inches. While my friends are picking out adorable shoes with skyscraper heels and piling their hair on top of their heads, I am stuck with flat shoes and flat hair and the prospect of dancing with guys who come up to my chin. (At least this year, the prom was held at a downtown Fullerton mansion with magnificently tall ceilings that made me feel less Godzillian.)

*

As you can see from my list, the balance is slightly off on the scale of pros and cons. But I'm learning to live with my height and insecurities.

I was born tall. I am proud to claim the title of longest baby--20 inches--in the nursery the day I was born at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange. In kindergarten I was a full head taller than my best friend, who was six months older. I grew up being tall, though I don't recall having feelings of abnormality. I was able to skip around the playground like a normal, carefree child. These days I walk apprehensively.

Denial is another trait of tall girls. The average height of the teenage male is 5 feet 8. I was that tall in eighth grade, but I would never admit it. Most people fudge a bit on their weight on a driver's license form--I fudged on my height, and rounded down.

When asked the most-asked question No. 3, "How tall are you, anyway?" I reply without hesitation, "Five-eleven and a half." This will forever be.

Where did I get this gene from, anyway? My father is only 6 feet 1 or so, and my mother is average-to-short. Perhaps I inherited some freaky floating gene from one of my father's tall bachelor uncles.

Wherever it's from, I have it.

I do have some tricks to make me feel less conspicuous::

* Walk around barefoot. Shoes always add inches.

* Stand next to the tallest person at school. I felt minuscule next to Villa Park High School's 7-foot-1 star basketball player. Unfortunately, he graduated last year.

* Relax. I know the only way to be completely comfortable with others is to be comfortable with myself. My height causes me some problems--physically and mentally--but it rounds out my character and is part of what makes me who I am.

While I hope that it's not all I'm known for (I can just see it now--under my picture in my senior yearbook will be the caption, "Tallest Girl"), I know that my height defines me. And I've worked up a snappy answer to use the next time someone asks me Most Asked Question No. 3. I'll just say, "72 inches."

And smile.

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