A baby boomer’s height: the long and short of it

Doesn’t it seem like the generations that came after ours got taller? It sure does to us. But that’s not the end of it: from Santa Barbara, California, author Barbara Greenleaf complains that we’re getting shorter. And she has proof, which she writes about for BoomerCafé in “Height: the Long and the Short of it.”

When I was growing up, I was one of the tallest girls in class. 5-foot-6-and-a-half! I know this because in those days kids were lined up in size order, small to tell, and I always placed next to last (or first, depending) in front of Susan Walling, she of the hearty Scandinavian stock. Except for Susan’s Scandinavian family and a few others, ours was basically a second-generation family from the neighborhood of southern and eastern Europe, where people were short-ish. So there was all the more reason that I was considered tall-ish.

Barbara Greenleaf – center in the back row.

But no more. I just had my annual physical, where I was weighed and measured. Knowing this moment of truth was coming, I did that math peculiar to middle-aged women: should I keep my shoes on so I’ll be a half inch taller or take them off so I’ll be a half-pound lighter? I opted for the latter, fluffed up my hair, and practiced my very best posture.

Barbara in London.

Alas, to no avail. The measurement now? 5-foot-4-…and-a-half. My head is now a full two inches closer to the floor than it was in my prime. Someone recently even called me “petite.” I’d rather be “a tall drink of water.” Aaargh! When I told my sister I’d lost two inches, she replied that we should create a ruler on the side of a door, but instead of marking up from the bottom like we did as kids, we’ll have to erase from the top.

I used to love being tall. Tall connotes seriousness of purpose and leadership ability. Tall = Authority. Think George Washington (6”4”) and Thomas Jefferson (6’2”). Of course there was that shrimp Napoleon, whose press agent put out the word that he was a full five-foot-seven, the average for his day. Oh, yeah? Then why did they name a short man’s complex after him? There was also barely there Stalin (5’6”), but as he and Napoleon don’t fit my model, I’m conveniently ignoring them.

So, back to me! I’m sure it was due to my height that I was chosen camp-color-war captain although I never caught a fly ball in center field. And I was picked to star in our junior high musical even though I couldn’t carry a tune. What other explanation could there be?

Although it does not make it any easier, I realize I am not alone in my downward spiral. Studies show that almost all of us shrink as we age, and on average women lose just over three inches by the age of 80. These same studies show that almost all of us also overestimate our height. If I really am to be the Incredible Shrinking Woman though, I know where I can be among my own kind: the Little People of America. That organization represents anyone under 4’10”, which they consider a dwarf. The way things are going I should start preparing my membership application now.


  1. I was 5’8 throughout school and the boys seemed like midgets. It was rather a hard time for a tall girl in the 1960’s – unlike today.

    Now we embrace our height with pride.

  2. I was always the girl at the front of the line since I’ve always been under 5’3″. Now I am also becoming the incredible shrinking woman. Perhaps now you, Barbara, and your former tall friends can empathize with us height challenged at our outrage when department stores refuse to stock petite sized clothing.

  3. I, too, was always quite tall in elementary school, and remember those days when we lined up by height. Like the author, I was usually the second tallest person in class, too. I topped out at 5’8.5″, and I liked being tall. Not terribly long ago, I had a physical, and my doctor’s assistant recorded my height as 5’8″. I was disappointed, but so it goes. Then my company had a screening that we had to participate in, to get the lowest cost for our health insurance. The attendant doing the height measurement slammed the bar down on my head, making me cringe away from the bar. “Five six,” he said mechanically, and wrote that on my data sheet.

    Knowing I could NOT have lost that much height in such a short period of time, I requested a re-take. That time I didn’t cringe, although he still pushed the bar down hard on my head. “OK,” he said after the second measurement. “I’ll give you 5’7″, ” like it was a choice he was entitled to make! I realized they were not hiring the best and the brightest.

  4. I am only 51 and i was always short for a mail at only 5’8″ tall but i’m now down to 5’6.5″ tall and for me i don’t have a problem with it, although height does seem to be an over emphasized issue in my opinion. Great article though!!!

  5. Sorry Barbara, but 5ft 6 and a half is NOT tall. Try being the tallest kid in the class (not just girl) and 6 ft in high school. The basketball players all dated the cheerleaders – all short – tall girls didn’t “fit” the image. Despite this I loved being tall and, like you, I think my height was an advantage. I always stood out in a crowd and was picked as “leader” I believe just because people look up to tall people (from childhood.) So when the nurse taking my measurements recorded me at 5 ’11” I thought – oh well, I’m still tall!

  6. I remember as a late bloomer how thrilled I felt to have had a growth spurt over the summer and not having to be one of the shortest girls in the class when school started. Well Barbara, your article explains why my husband appears to be getting taller lately. Gotta remind myself that it is how one carries oneself or their comportment that makes them tall. Still gives ‘Baby’ Boomer a whole new spin!

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