By ANDRÉA CECIL,
Daily Record Business Writer
Robert C. Martin went to his doctor last year for a physical only to be told he had shrunk half an inch.
“I was 5-11 and I was devastated,” says the 50-year-old.
Lucky for him he’s the president of Richlee Shoe Co., the Frederick-based maker of Elevator shoes.
“See what a difference it makes?” Martin said after slipping his left foot out of his leather, height-increasing boot and stepping on the floor to accentuate a noticeable height difference.
Strapping the shoe back on, he says with a smile, “No one’s going to tell me I’m under 6 feet.”
Obviously, Martin has his own issues because the average height for an American man is 5 feet 10 inches. And being below those 70 inches can prove difficult when society says bigger is better.
From getting dates and buying clothes to yearly salary and job hunting, being a short man is not advantageous.
In its monthly catalogue, the Richlee Shoe Co. tells customers, “articles, surveys and studies have shown that being taller has definite advantages in business and in social situations.”
It says 90 percent of company chief executives are above average height; job recruiters choose the taller man 72 percent of the time when choosing between men of comparable backgrounds and skills; promotions come faster to the taller man; women find taller men “significantly more attractive”; 18 out of the last 22 U.S. presidential elections were won by the taller man; and every extra inch in height brings a man an extra $600 per year in salary.
“We kind of feel that you can buy an $80 shoe and get $1,200 worth of a salary increase,” Martin says with a smile, referring to the additional two inches many of his company’s shoes guarantee. “There’s no question that the taller you are, the more attention you get.”
M.J. ‘Jay’ Brodie, president of Baltimore Development Corp., says at 5-foot-7, height never bothered him. Besides, he considers himself of medium height.
But one recent University of Florida study found that the salary gap between tall people and short people is much larger: about $789 a year in pay for every inch.
Timothy Judge, a management professor at the school, and Daniel Cable, a business professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, analyzed the results of four research studies that followed thousands of participants in Britain and the United States from childhood to adulthood, and examined details of the subjects’ work and personal lives. The study controlled for age, gender and weight.
The research showed height was more important than gender in determining income and its importance does not diminish as a person ages. Plus, being tall may boost employees’ self-confidence, helping them to be more successful and prompting others to give more status and respect to a tall person.
It’s what some call “heightism.”
No, it’s not found in the dictionary, and spell check doesn’t recognize it, but short men say it’s real.
“No one ever considered heightism. It’s the most basic prejudice in man, but it’s the least talked about,” says Joe Mangano, a 5-foot-4-inch salesman for a trademark research company in New York City.
“As a matter of fact, there may be more heightism today than before because people can no longer discriminate against other groups: blacks, women, Jews,” he said.
Society is simply fascinated with size, he says.
Robert C. Martin, president of Richlee Shoe Co., was devastated when he discovered he had shrunk to 5-foot-11. Good thing he sold Elevator shoes so he could enhance his height.
“Height is associated with strength, power, masculinity and sexual power. And we associate the opposite with the opposite thing,” Mangano says.
Gary Brooks, professor of psychology and family therapy at Baylor University, believes the prejudice lies in what society teaches men about masculinity.
“Within manhood, men compare themselves to each other and most men feel relatively powerless and short in one dimension or the other,” he says.
Most men constantly compare assets — height, salary and sexual performance, for example, and many times don’t feel they “measure up,” Brooks says.
“I think we all compare ourselves to some unrealistic goal,” he adds. “I guess one of the real sad parts is no matter how much you’ve accomplished, if you think of masculinity as a ladder at a racquet ball club … you’re always preoccupied with the person who is ahead of you.”
Exacerbating the problem is women’s empowerment, Brooks says.
“As women have become more full participants in the culture … it’s much more difficult for men to become comfortable in some ways,” he says. “It’s just men’s perception. So we become even more focused on any outward signs of masculinity.”
Robert C. Martin, president of Richlee Shoe Co., has a warehouse full of shoes — from athletic shoes to dress shoes — for the man who wants to enhance his height.
Thomas T. Samaras has a different view, saying the idea is somewhat driven by biology.
The director of Reventropy Associates, a San Diego research organization that studies height, health, performance and resource consumption, has made his life’s purpose dispelling the myth that bigger is better.
“If we go back to primitive times — when we were hunter-gatherers — there was an advantage to being bigger and taller,” he explains. “The taller man, for example, was probably better at defending and fighting animals and protecting the family.”
But what was once necessary is now futile.
“Today, of course, we don’t depend on brute strength except in special areas,” Samaras says. “Obviously, football is an area where being big is important. But for the most part in the industrial world, size is not important.”
A warehouse worker at Richlee Shoe Co. inserts an elevating insole into a shoe scheduled to be shipped out from the Frederick warehouse
A person’s character and personality are unrelated to his or her height, assuming the same socio-economic status, notes Samaras, author of the 1994 book “The Truth About Your Height: Exploring the Myths and Realities of Human Size and Its Effects on Performance, Health, Pollution and Survival.” In fact, he says, short people are “fantastic” athletes and outlive tall people.
“It’s strictly psychosocial with the exception of brute strength,” explains Samaras, who is 5 feet 10 inches. “It’s a very subtle and forgiven prejudice that we have.”
Yet he believes education — not legislation — is the way to tackle “heightism.”
Mangano, however, says every company’s creed should prohibit discrimination against short people.
“I mean, even at my age, I go through discrimination,” says the 47-year-old.
Chris Hamre, a 5-foot-4-inch clerical worker who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., agrees.
“Sometimes you feel like you get overlooked. You’re not taken seriously. The opportunities aren’t there. You’ve got to work harder, and if you work harder, you’re told you’re a Napoleon,” says the 35-year-old, referring to aggressive short men being told they have a “Napoleon complex.”
“I’m just trying to live like everybody else,” he said. “I’m not trying to conquer the world like Napoleon.”
Erika Hummel, a Richlee Shoe Co. customer service representative, shows a Logger Boot to a walk-in customer who wants the 3-inch insole to push him over the 6-foot mark.
Both Hamre and Mangano contributed essays to www.shortsupport.org, a Web site support group for short people that includes resources, health information, news articles and a who’s who of short people who run the gamut from actors and entertainers to politicians and activists.
The list includes 5-foot-3-inch Mickey Rooney, who was a Richlee spokesman as a young actor; entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., who also stood at 5 feet 3 inches; former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who is 4 feet 10 ½ inches; and Mahatma Gandhi, who was 5 feet 3 inches.
M.J. “Jay” Brodie also is shorter than the average male, measuring in at 5 feet 7 inches.
But as president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city’s quasi-public economic development agency, and a former Baltimore housing commissioner, the 67-year-old has nothing to complain about.
“I’ve never noticed heightism in terms of my personal life. I never feared heightism. One person once asked me if I had trouble hiring people taller than I am. I said, ‘No. It never occurred to me as a problem,’” he says in his jovial tone of voice. “Actually, I’ve always thought of myself as medium height.”
Richlee Shoe Co. in Frederick sells all kinds of shoes with lifts. The logger boot boosts a wearer’s height by more than 3 inches.
On a daily basis, being below average height is not part of his consciousness, Brodie says.
“In my own situation, I’ve been perfectly comfortable with myself. I never had a desire to be taller or shorter,” he says, adding with a laugh, “There may be people who are unfairly tall and architecturally speaking, they’re out of scale.”
Paul Mark Sandler, a partner at Baltimore law firm Shapiro, Sher, Guinot & Sandler, said that even at six inches below average height, i.e. 5 feet 4 inches, he hasn’t felt “heightism” either in his personal life or in his professional life.
He called any type of legislation outlawing it “ridiculous.”
“I don’t consider that as an issue at all,” he says. “You might as well say, ‘Does your shoe size have anything to do with your courtroom performance?’”
Sandler adds: “Nor have I ever been conscious of it — unless I buy clothes.”
But, that doesn’t mean he believes there should be legislation to force men’s clothing manufacturers to offer smaller off-the rack suits.
Paul Mark Sander, a apartner at Shapiro, Sher, Guinot & Sandler, says anyone who believes height has anything to do with success would also believe shoe size relates to courtroom presentations.
Unfortunately, Mangano and Hamre can’t say the same.
Because “heightism” is so prevalent, the fact that both measure 64 inches is constantly on their minds.
“I’ve always thought about it,” Mangano says. “It’s something that I think about consciously on a daily basis just because I’ve become so interested in the subject. And I notice it more and more as I go through day-to-day living.”
Still, neither is ready to seek a remedy to their stature through Elevator shoes.
“I’m 5-4 and that’s the way I am,” Hamre says. “If people don’t like me, oh well.”
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