Does being short affect your success in life?

So-called 'Angry Little Man Syndrome' is where male privilege meets male disadvantage. But being short doesn't always lead to anger. Some of the highest achieving, most suave men are among the lowest on the height spectrum. Their nonchalant confidence indicates that diminutive stature in a man can, in fact, go one of two ways.

I must declare an interest. At 1.7 metres (5 foot 7), I'm a munchkin myself. It has become part of my identity; I welcome the affectionate midget jokes. I want to know how this affects other men, though, so everyone I have interviewed for this piece is smaller than me. Did their stunted growth propel them forward to achieve as a way of compensating, or hold them back? The answer, I discover, is a very mixed bag.

Stumpy no more

Prosper Taruvinga, 32, is a business development executive from Melbourne. He's 167 cm tall (or short, depending how you look at it). His school nickname was "stumpy". He was bullied and confesses: "I even caught myself singing 'I Wish I Was A Little Bit Taller' by Skeelo."

At 167cm, Prosper Taruvinga tries to use his stature to his advantage.
At 167cm, Prosper Taruvinga tries to use his stature to his advantage. 

Despite – or perhaps because of - this, he has grown a thick skin: "People of lesser height work hard to be seen and heard. Society calls it a syndrome to put them in their place. I think they're threatened because short people are willing to put in all they have to break through."

Being stumpy is no longer part of his vocabulary: "I've stopped noticing my height. Some things you can't control; height's one of them."

Success has made Taruvinga stand tall. Professionally, he has climbed the corporate ladder; has presented at TEDx and "made a heap of money". But there's one highly unlikely place he has found success, through pure ankle-biting doggedness: he's a male model. And one that can barely keep up with bookings.

Jennen Ngiau-Keng's company Taller makes shoes with a hidden heel for shorter men.
Jennen Ngiau-Keng's company Taller makes shoes with a hidden heel for shorter men. 

He says: "Models are meant to be a minimum six-foot tall. Anything below that, no one gives you a shot. I made sure every casting agent knew my name. The 500 knockbacks I received gave me momentum. I felt I had a mission, and that unconsciously became my driver to success." It's certainly an unconventional approach, but has paid off: "People didn't see me coming. Perhaps it was my height," he chortles.

The angriest little man alive

Not everyone shares this light-hearted confidence. One man responds to my call-out under the pseudonym Dennis Lee – at 160cm tall, he's too shy even to reveal his full name. He sends me this: "You must've thought you struck gold when you saw my email. Behold, the angriest little man alive speaks!" And he's angry alright. Irate, even.

He continues: "A quick scan of online dating profiles reveals how many women openly discriminate against short men. Have you ever heard the song 'Short Short Man'? It used to get plenty of mainstream airplay. Can you imagine if the lyrics were 'Don't want no black black man..' or 'Don't want no fat fat chick..'? All he'll disclose is he's 37, of Chinese descent but grew up in Sydney.

Through the anger, there's a poignant sadness: "All the pain I feel stems from a lack of attraction from others. Those of you who are lucky enough to be 'normal', will never understand what it's like to be invisible. You'll take attraction for granted, the confidence it helps build, and the happiness it brings."

It's not just in his personal life he feels being discriminated against: "Professionally, being short means you'll never be part of the 'big boys' club'. Hard to talk business with someone who you can't see eye to eye with, literally."

One small problem

Pippa Williams, 36, from Sydney, admits that dating shorter men has featured as a deal breaker: "In my 20s, I wouldn't date anyone shorter. I bought into the way society tells women they have to be petite to be feminine and attractive to men. Now I'm older I'm not sure I subscribe to that any more, although I do still feel a bit conscious of appearing lanky and awkward next to a shorter man."

Jennen Ngiau-Keng, 32, from Melbourne, is 170cm and may have found a solution for people like "Dennis". He's the founder of Taller, which makes shoes with a hidden heel for shorter men. It came from when he wore some men's elevated shoes that gave him six extra inches (15cm) – and a ton of extra confidence. "I discovered that many male Hollywood celebrities under six-foot wore elevated shoes, like Robert Downey Jr (5'8) and Sylvester Stallone (5'9)."

Higher barriers

But doesn't his business proposition run on the unsavoury idea that short guys are undesirable? "In terms of the dating scene, yes, short guys are less desirable." He adds: "Numerous studies indicate that shorter men have higher barriers in corporate, dating and social scenes." Indeed, recent Ohio State University research revealed a six-foot tall person (183cm) will earn more than $200,000 more than 5ft 4in person (162cm) over 30 years.

His customers – including security guards, bouncers and police officers - want to command authority: "I feel great knowing I'm boosting my customers' self-esteem. Many of them face the issues I did."

Taruvinga, though, has a healthier coping mechanism: "When people bend over to listen to what I'm saying, I secretly tell myself they're bowing to me. I've been the shortest person on the runway. I feel like I got all the attention, because every other tall model was 'normal'. I milked that. Own it."