After almost 15 years, I continue to learn something new about my Crohn’s disease. The other day, I read a statistic from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation stating that about 33% of Crohn’s patients and 10% of ulcerative colitis patients who experience inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) during childhood experience growth failure.
Studies indicate that, on average, children with IBD grow up to be shorter than their healthy siblings. Furthermore, Crohn’s patients are often shorter than individuals with ulcerative colitis. The height difference becomes greater for patients who had more severe symptoms or were diagnosed with IBD before puberty.
I discovered I had Crohn’s when I was in my early 30s — long after I stopped growing at 13. Nevertheless, being only 4 feet, 11½ inches tall (I need that half inch!), I can relate to fellow IBD warriors whose growth may have been stunted by the disease.
Short people got no reason
In 1977, singer Randy Newman released the song “Short People.” Although he meant the song to be about the folly of prejudice, the disparaging lyrics offended some people. Not surprisingly, bullies often used the song to antagonize those of us who are vertically challenged.
Our stature already labels us as below average. Having others remind us can take a toll on our self-esteem.
When I was younger, I couldn’t compete for attention against my taller, slender, and leggy peers. I still remember the look on one guy’s face the first time I took off my shoes while standing next to him. His entire head dropped in disbelief (or was it disappointment?) as he watched me sink to his chest level. I imagine being short can be even more troublesome for men, where height subconsciously represents virility.
Height can also exacerbate IBD patients’ body dysmorphia. Abdominal bloating or an extra 5 or 10 pounds of water weight from prednisone can drastically alter a short person’s appearance. Taller individuals have more surface area to distribute the excess weight. I, on the other hand, end up looking like Violet Beauregarde in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”
Because of our size, short people are often overlooked or not respected. When I first started teaching at a university, my height, combined with my youthful Asian features, led others to mistake me for a college student. I sometimes felt forced to prove my authority because I wasn’t viewed as an adult.
Unfortunately, short people can appear power-hungry or vicious when we assert ourselves. If we stand up for ourselves or act aggressively, others accuse us of having a Napoleon complex. It can be a no-win situation.
You must be this tall to ride
In addition to psychological ordeals, short people must endure the physical limitations of living in an average-sized world. Simple tasks, like shopping, can be challenging. At grocery stores, if I want an item on the top shelf, I have to stand on the bottom shelf to reach it or find someone to get it down for me. When I shop for clothes, I feel like a child playing dress-up. I have to buy normal-sized capri or cropped pants if I don’t want to roll up or hem the pant legs. A maxi dress doubles as a dust mop, even if I wear heels.
Finding a good seat at concerts is close to impossible. Instead of the stage, I have a view of the audience’s backs and shoulders. Not only can I not see anything, but I’m also stuck in the middle of a hot, sweaty crowd. I’m not claustrophobic, but it can be quite suffocating when I can’t reach the breeze of fresh air.
I rejoiced when movie theaters installed stadium seats, and I could finally see the screen over people’s heads. Sadly, for the comfort of their average-sized patrons, theaters in my area upgraded to luxury reclining seats. I sink so low in them that no incline can help me see over the seat in front of me. The last time we went to a movie, I almost told my husband to ask an employee if they had a booster seat because I couldn’t see the bottom fourth of the screen.
Airplane seating is all short people have going for them because we don’t need all that legroom.
Good things come in small packages
Despite all the setbacks of being short, there are benefits. When I trip, I don’t have too far to fall. I can shop for children’s shoes and clothes, which are about 10% cheaper than women’s sizes. My calf muscles get a workout from standing on my tiptoes all the time, and I do a pretty good clean and jerk when hoisting my carry-on into the overhead bin on airplanes.
With growing efforts toward universal design and accessibility, perhaps the “average” world will look a lot different in the future. The playing field will literally be level for people of all heights.
Note: IBD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of IBD News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to IBD.