The little people

I read recently that Australian women are shrinking. With quiet alarm, a study commissioned by the Dieticians Association of Australia reported that today’s 18 to 24 year old women are a whole centimetre shorter than previous generations. Based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data, the study led the dieticians to worry about “the nation’s future mothers,” blaming poor diet and “eating on the run” for the women’s “shrinkage.” Enough! I wanted to shout. Oh yes, they’re smaller, these young women, perhaps they are. But why blame diet? Why eating on the run? In fact, why is it bad news at all? Couldn’t it be that being smaller is better?

Way back in 2009, US evolutionary biologists were predicting that women worldwide would get shorter and heavier over time. Why? Because shorter, heavier women have more babies, which gives them an evolutionary advantage. In ten generations, the biologists said, women would be two centimetres shorter and a kilo heavier. From this point of view, Australia is leading the world. We have evolved. But not according to the dieticians, who want us to eat better in order to grow taller.

I have a little skin in the game here, I’ll admit. I am small. Let me tell you how small. I was the smallest person in my class from kindergarten to Grade 12, even after repeating a year. My nickname was Shorty-pants. A boy once asked me, seriously, if I was a dwarf and I started to wonder, seriously, if I was, adopted out by circus performers (don’t ask) who didn’t want their child to face a transient life. I got into the Ekka for half-price at nineteen. I always had to prove my age at pubs. Before they had endlessly adjustable seats, I couldn’t reach the pedals and see over the dash at the same time in most cars (I drove with a cushion rather than make an unsafe choice, just by the way). And I am now well on the way to being a little old lady. I plan to be the littlest old lady. Proudly. 

Grade 3 was the only time I faltered. My mother decided that when the older children had tuckshop lunch, my little brother, then in preschool, should have tuckshop lunch too. But the preschoolers weren’t allowed up to the big school so I’d buy my brother’s lunch and run it down to him. One week, I was halfway up the hill heading back to the big school when a prep teacher yelled to me. “Come back here! You’re not allowed up at the big school.” I ran for my life. Afterwards, I was convinced that because I was small, I would have to go back to preschool, only confessing my fears several weeks later when pressed by my mother who couldn’t understand what was worrying me so much and why I cried on tuckshop day. 

This has been the single glitch in a lifetime spent small. I think I can speak for Persons of Small Stature (POSS) worldwide when I say we are sick and tired of being dwarfed, demonised and denigrated. Just let me share with you some of the other advantages of being small that the evolutionary biologists may have missed. I was the first in the line at school for absolutely everything. At dances, John Bond and I were the leading couple to enter the ballroom. We got all the applause. In gymnastics, I was the one at the top of the human pyramid. In class photographs, I was a shoo-in for the front row, mostly on one of the coveted end positions. I was the good thing that came in the small package, and like Thumbalina, my heart was full of love. So imagine my ire to read, in the public domain, that dieticians feel it’s a step backwards to be smaller.

 I’m sorry. I promised myself I would never express outrage in these pages, but I felt it my duty, a moral imperative, to go on record here in support of small people everywhere (SPE). We will not be reduced by such blatant discrimination. Just remember this, dieticians. When you look at us angry little people, you are looking at the future. Get used to it. 

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Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend  on 22 March 2014. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch,  tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!