The 95th Percentile

I remember visiting the doctor as a kid and being told I was in the 95th percentile for my height. That’s nearly off-the-charts tall. Tall guys tend to sail easily through adolescence by becoming jocks, bullies or gentle giants. Tall girls become jocks or awkward, slouching specimens visibly uncomfortable in their own skin. I was a bit of both: a jock-lite and a confidently awkward girl.

In the second grade, I attended a friend’s birthday party at the neighborhood Burger King. We had a blast playing in the ball pit, eating bags of hamburgers and getting our faces painted like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When the time came to take a group photo, I assumed my usual position in the back – a head floating above an amorphous blob of round faces and orange drink-stained smiles. Instead of feeling self-conscious, I was totally stoked that the girl standing in front of me was a head and shoulders shorter. Why? Because the camera had a clear view of my favorite party sweater. It was 80’s purple with big cats juggling little 3-D yarn balls. Who knows what the hell anyone else had on that day.

Even though I kind of missed the memo that tall girls should be ashamed of their height, I did receive a few low-blows that have permanently burned themselves into my brain. Like that time in fifth grade when I had to stop wearing my favorite green pantsuit to Sunday school because Jimmy Chang wouldn’t stop calling me “The Jolly Green Giant.” Residual shame prevents me from buying that brand of canned goods to this day.

I didn’t slouch a lot, but I had this awkward stance where I’d lean into one hip, legs shoulder-width apart. It brought me down a few inches so I could better relate to my classmates. After a few years of this nonsense, I finally came to the conclusion that no matter how much I tried, I would never be “average” height. This was never going to change, so I decided to get comfortable with the idea. In a simple, but profound act of early onset self-awareness, I knew the time had come to choose acceptance over shame. So I finally took my Mom’s advice and stood up straight, owning every damn inch of my 5’11” frame.

Immediately, I noticed a difference. I appeared to be more confident, which led to me feeling and acting more confidently. I started experimenting with bossing people around (some refer to this as “leading”) and they listened. I earned more respect from my peers, coaches and teachers. People seemed to prefer the tall version of me over the slouchy one and were attached to my confidence, which came naturally once I made peace with the thing that makes me unique.

Don’t get me wrong – this is no small task. It takes years of practice flying in the face of convention to get comfortable with it. Just ask Prince what he thinks about “fitting in.” He’ll tell you being an individual is Where. It’s. At. Just kidding – don’t talk to Prince. He startles easily.

Growing up as a slight oddball has trained me to be a confident grown-up who doesn’t need to seek approval through sameness. I love being tall and now that they’ve finally started making jeans with a 35″ inseam, life at the top of the charts truly is grand. It comes in really handy for practical purposes too, like reaching the very last package of store brand toilet paper that’s been shoved to the back of the top shelf. I could go on, but I think you get the point that yes, the air really is better up here.

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Humankind, Life

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