When my daughter, Hayley, was three, she came home and declared that day would be her last attending the preschool she loved so much. When I asked her why, tears began streaming down her face. She explained to me that the teachers hung up a growth chart in the classroom and placed a piece of tape next to the measurements to show the height of each child. While her friends landed at the top and middle of the chart, her name was at the very bottom, with no other names in sight.
“I’m the worst because I’m at the bottom,” she told me. “Everyone is taller and better than me.”
Being 5’1″ on a very good day (with heels and volumized hair), I related to her predicament. Growing up, I was always the shortest kid in class, but it never seemed to bother me the way it did her. Sure, I knew at an early age that I’d never be on the basketball team, but I relished in the little privileges I was afforded, liked being front and center in a class photo.
“I don’t like being called a munchkin,” Hayley said.
So rather than telling my strong-willed daughter that she should ignore these comments, I armed her with the ways being short could work to her advantage. For example, she is the last one to get wet when it rains, and she can squeeze into the best hide-and-go-seek spots.
Still, every day she’d come home and say “today my friends called me peanut, and it makes me sad.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 160,000 kids stay home from school each day to avoid being bullied. Research indicates that bullying behavior can start as early as age three, with girls facing a larger chance of teasing.
The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress believe that bullying has a real and profound psychological impact into adulthood, causing the saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” to ring untrue. For the most part, physical damage from a fight heals quickly, but words can cause lasting damage to a child’s self-concepts and identity.
I didn’t want Hayley to be another statistic. While I knew the comments made about her height were innocent and playful, and even endearing at times, I worried that being labeled as short would cause her to lack confidence at a crucial time in her emotional and social development.
What’s more, I scoured through books, movies and television shows to point to a short character who Hayley could relate to that was a heroine. Much to my surprise, not only couldn’t I find one, but I found tons of characters who had special abilities precisely because they were tall. Take Elastigirl from “The Incredibles,” for example. She can stretch her body taller to ward off enemies and save the day. And then there’s Wonder Woman, who stands at six feet tall. Young girls look up to her—literally.