Monday, August 29, 2011

The Short Guy

A while ago, I wrote a blog post about how we romance writers are a lot more forgiving of female characters than males. We’re willing to accept full-figured heroines, but the hero had better have abs like Beckham. Judging from the comments, baldness was also a no-no, although a shaved head would perhaps be acceptable. And woe betide the poor schlump who couldn’t hold down a decent job. In other words, while we’d accept real women as heroines, when it came to the hero, we wanted the fantasy.

I thought about this the other day while I was reading an article about on-line dating services. It turned out the two things that men were most likely to lie about on their personal profiles were their income (understandable, I guess) and their height. Hmmmmmm.

So now I’m wondering—have I ever read a romance novel where the hero wasn’t a literal tower of strength? And I can’t think of a single one right off the top of my head.

This whole height thing seems to be a generalized social taboo. Consider the number of vertically challenged actors who have done love scenes standing on boxes or required their leading ladies to go barefoot (Alan Ladd and Tom Cruise leap to mind here). Politicians go to great lengths not to be photographed in a way that shows them to be less than statuesque. Even spindly rock singers often avoid being photographed next to the towering models they seem to favor.

And yet in real life I’m not sure this is quite as big a deal as we pretend. The average male height in the USA is five foot ten inches (although some sources say five foot nine) rather than the six feet society seems to aspire to. And I guess everybody knows six-footers who are a) uncoordinated or b) out of shape, along with shorter guys who can bench press a couple hundred pounds. Height, in other words, is really no indication of studliness. And if the yardstick here is the man’s ability to protect his partner, would you rather be accompanied down that dark alley by the six-foot-two-inch couch potato who’s never seen a gym or by the five-foot-niner who has a black belt?

And yet we romance writers continue our love affair with tall guys. I’m as guilty as anybody here since my Toleffsons are all over six foot two. For me, part of this fascination with height comes from the fact that I’m a tall woman myself—five-foot-eight, well over the national average of five-foot-four. But my hubs tops out at five-foot-eleven, so he’s not up there with the Toleffsons (and yes, I’m nuts about him—we’ve been married a long time).

Now one might speculate that this fascination with height is a stand-in for the size of another part of the male anatomy, and it’s probably true that tall guys will be in proportion in other parts as well. But remember the other mythical markers of male size: feet and noses. Those don’t depend on height at all. A man who’s under six feet could still have more-than-adequate equipment. I know of one legendary country singer who’s under six feet and legendary for more than his music, my dears.

So what do you think, people? Are you willing to accept romantic heroes who aren’t up there in the stratosphere as long as they’re muscular and cute? Or is that six-foot-something height a non-negotiable part of the total package (so to speak)?


Maria said...

The romantic lead doesn't have to be six feet or more but he does have to be at least 4 to 5 inches taller than the female lead if you want her to wear heels and the man not feel if the heroine is say 5'2".....then the guy needs to be at least 5'7"...and so on...I'm short but I like to date men who are 6 feet or

Jen B. said...

I am taller than my husband. I wore heels and a tall headpiece at our wedding. My mother begged me not to! The photographer insisted my husband stand a couple of steps above me for photos! **Sigh** We were the only ones not bugged by it. romance I think most books need the fantasy. That being said Lorelei James' Chasin' Eight has a hero that is shorter than the heroine. Yeah, he has washboard abs and is too good to be true but he is short and he knows it! BTW, I thought it was a great story!

Kelly Jamieson said...

Yes I was going to mention Chasing Eight, Jen! I think that's the first romance I've ever read where the hero is shorter than the heroine. And not just because she's tall. Chase is (I think)5'8" and has a bit of a short complex. The reason I think it worked is because he's a studly bull rider, with a killer body and gorgeous face and he is all alpha male bad boy. I don't know if I'm ready to write a short hero but I enjoyed that one!