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A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO GROWING UP SHORT. Part science book, part memoir—a
book for everyone concerned about looking (or feeling) different.
When veteran journalist John Schwartz took a close look at famous height studies, he made a surprising discovery: being short doesn’t have to be a disadvantage! Part advice book, part memoir, and part science primer, this fascinating book explores the marketing, psychology, ...
A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO GROWING UP SHORT. Part science book, part memoir—a
book for everyone concerned about looking (or feeling) different.
When veteran journalist John Schwartz took a close look at famous height studies, he made a surprising discovery: being short doesn’t have to be a disadvantage! Part advice book, part memoir, and part science primer, this fascinating book explores the marketing, psychology, and mythology behind our obsession with height and delivers a reassuring message to kids of all types that they can
walk tall—whatever it is that makes them different.
Short is a 2011 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
“Short: Walking Tall When You’re Not Tall at All is an encouraging book for young readers . . . .. It combines memoir, science and survival tips.” —The Washington Post, “Health Scan” column
“[A] down-to-earth and hopeful account, which demonstrates that being different doesn't have to forecast what Schwartz calls a ‘second-rate life.’”—Publishers Weekly
“Appealing and engaging . . . its personal and objective insights are thoughtful and helpful.” —Kirkus Reviews
“In a humorous, personal voice New York Times journalist Schwartz combines his own memories of growing up short with related discussions about physiology, statistics, popular culture, and societal prejudice. . . . He draws upon his own experience; interviews with others; and biographies of short, successful astronauts, artists, and politicians to show that while size matters, it doesn’t determine a person’s future.” —Booklist
“In a style that is funny, accessible, and irreverent, Schwartz deftly handles topics such as human growth hormones, bullies, genetics, and the psychology of being short. Interviews with a variety of experts are included, and the author does an excellent job of clarifying complicated statistics.” —School Library Journal
“The author, who is ‘vertically challenged’ himself, takes a look at society’s attitudes about height. His message is that height is determined by factors that no individual can control. The book emphasizes that self-esteem is important to success, and attempts to explode the stereotypes and myths that society holds about short people.” —Library Media Connection magazine, Starred review
“A great sense of humor permeates the book…Finally the book gives those who are different from the norm (which the author points out is almost everyone in one way or another) strategies for coping and navigating in a world that does not always fit. The book’s conversational tone is engaging and flows smoothly…Although the book is focused on height, there are parallels drawn with other body and self-image issues, giving readers of any size much food for thought.” —VOYA
When I was a kid, twelve cents could buy you a lot of fun. That’s what a comic book cost then. I could buy eight of them for a dollar at the Piggly Wiggly store, and read the adventures of Superman, Batman, and the Green Lantern. When I was nine, my mom even bought me a Superman suit and cape and I would actually wear them around the house. I’d jump off the couch, the cape .ying behind me, and sometimes even wore the suit under my clothes just like Superman did. My dad tells me he was scared to death that I’d try climbing up on the roof to see if I could really .y. I avoided that disaster, though. Even then, I knew it was make-believe. I would never be faster than a speeding bullet, but a boy could dream.
Reading my comic books, I lingered over the ads for “elevator shoes” and Liftee height pads that promised to add between two and four inches of height “invisibly.” How did those work? The word elevator made it sound like there was something mechanical in there, or maybe even magical. But the shoes really just had soles that were several inches thick. Even in the ads, those monster shoes looked like they might be too heavy for my little matchstick legs to lift. I’d be taller, but I’d have to stand in one place all day.
“BE TALLER— Stand 2– 6 inches TALLER in a few weeks. All ages. No gimmicks. GUARANTEED. Send 35¢. . . .”
The get-tall ads were right by the ones for big-muscle programs from Charles Atlas bodybuilding that would, if I sent Mr. Atlas money and followed the directions in his booklet, help me follow his path from “97-pound weakling” to “the world’s most perfectly developed man.” Even better: Mike Marvel, who
“CAN BUILD YOU A MAGNIFICENT
NEW HE- MAN- MUSCLED BODY
IN JUST TEN MINUTES A DAY—
with absolutely NO weights—
NO bar- bells—
NO EXERCISE AT ALL!”
In the years between my time as a kid and yours, a lot of things have happened. Comic books cost four dollars or more these days. And we now have spam to tell us we can get taller, or, um, bigger. But the basic idea—the idea that there’s something terribly, tragically wrong with you, and if you just give us money we will .x it—is still the same.
The pitches have never gone away, and never will, because the marketers know that most of us believe, deep down, that in some way we don’t measure up. That our bodies could be better. Should be better. And they think that we will pay dearly for the promise of a .x.
Sleazy salesmen have no trouble at all playing on that kind of insecurity and selling short guys fake drugs that they promise will make them taller. The
U.S. government recently cracked down on a company selling something called Heightmax that was supposed to increase height by 35 percent in a year for users between the ages of twelve and twenty-. ve.
Let’s do that math: That would mean somebody .ve feet tall would grow an additional 21 inches— nearly two feet. The wonderful people who pulled off this scam faked an “inventor” whose name they put in radio ads, and had testimonials from people who said their lives had been changed by the magic medicine. The ads said Heightmax would be “the answer to your prayers.”
The company didn’t admit that they were scam-ming people. Instead, they settled the government’s lawsuit against them, paying nearly two million dollars in .nes. But think about it: That means that even though the claims were obviously absurd, they had sold millions of dollars’ worth of this worthless product to suckers. And that is a lesson in just how powerful the urge is to take what nature gave us and stretch it. The makers of Heightmax are not the only ones. They’re just the most recent ones to get caught.
Now, don’t go thinking that anybody who says he can make you taller is just full of hot air and that the only transformation he is capable of is tranforming your money into his. There are legitimate treatments out there—but some of them sound more like the stuff of horror movies than medical treatment. And while the scams tend to be harmless aside from the money that the suckers lose, the treatments can lead to pain and disaster.
The most extreme example is a pro cess called limb lengthening. The details are gruesome: Doctors actually saw apart the patient’s leg bones and put the legs in adjustable braces that look a little like cages with knobs on them. (You really don’t want to see the pictures.) The patient then turns the knobs a few times a day, which stretches the bone apart a tiny bit at a time. In other words, it’s like a medieval torture rack, but it’s applied in a hospital instead of a dungeon. The other difference is that the patients pay for their torture: about $25,000. If everything goes right, the healing bone bridges the gap bit by bit, and over six months’ time in the brace the patient can get to be a few inches taller. It takes two years to recover fully.
The procedure is especially popular in China, where the government discriminates against people based on height. There are height requirements for some professions there, so being short can keep people from getting positions as diplomats, . ight attendants, and more. A story in the New York Times said that would- be Chinese diplomats must be at least .ve foot seven if they are men, .ve foot three if they are women. The Chinese news agency says that men have to be .ve foot nine and women, . ve foot .ve to apply for college majors such as acting or broadcasting. What’s a short person to do? Well, some folks get lengthened. And, sadly, the Chinese press is full of accounts of surgeries gone horribly wrong. There are legitimate problems, such as dwar.sm or having one leg shorter than the other, that are severe enough to justify the risks of surgery, but the procedure is just way too dangerous and painful to go through just to look taller.
In 2006, China cracked down on the surgery. Mao Qun’an, a Health Ministry spokesman in China, said that it “must only be carried out for strict medical reasons.”
Good luck with that one, Mao. It looks like the surgery isn’t going away anytime soon. One Chinese doctor, Dr. Xia, advertises his Beijing Institute of External Fixation Technology around the world. His website says that the institute is “where science and technology meet your dreams.”
In the United States, patients are more likely to turn to drugs when they want to grow taller. And there is a lot of work by real scientists and real drug companies to help people to grow. They aren’t like the sleazy Internet guys—their treatments, depending on which study you read or which doctors you talk to, might end up buying you an extra inch or two. But there are some real problems with the way that they sell their stuff, too.
So let’s talk about drugs.
No, this is not a DARE lecture. I mean medicine to give people a height boost—human growth hormone. Like the leg surgery, it started as an attempt to .x medical problems. But, like the leg surgery, its use has spread to people who are merely short.
Human growth hormone is a chemical messenger that occurs naturally in the body and is part of the pro cess that spurs growth and development. If a person’s body doesn’t produce enough of it, that person is likely to be very small, and the small person is said to have a medical condition such as dwar. sm.
Those people can be helped by injections of human growth hormone, which helps supply what their body doesn’t.
In the early days, scientists didn’t know how to manufacture the hormone, so they extracted it from the bodies of dead people. By 1985, a synthetic version had been developed and was approved for use as a medicine, mainly for those people suffering from severe problems such as dwar.sm. Some doctors prescribed it for patients who didn’t have those problems, though. Bodybuilders wanted it, though it hasn’t been proven to actually help them. (Those guys will take just about anything that they think will pump them up.) And some doctors also started prescribing the hormones for children who don’t have a hormone de.ciency but are just plain short. That’s a big difference.
Before long, the drug companies were pushing the government to give its blessing to what they had been doing anyway. And so, in 2003, the government did approve the use of growth hormones for short kids who weren’t suffering from a medical condition—to be speci.c, the shortest 1.2 percent of children. For ten-year-old boys and girls, that meant anyone shorter than four foot one. The idea was that it would be used in kids likely to grow to adult heights of less than .ve foot three (for boys) and four feet eleven (for girls.) Did I mention that I’m . ve foot three? So I am of.cially really short. But I didn’t need a government ruling to tell me that.
The phrase that was used by the drug companies and the government to describe being short was a whopper: idiopathic short stature. Idiopathic is one of those great words doctors and scientists use to describe something that they don’t understand, something with an unknown cause. So idiopathic short stature means “this person is short and it’s not for any of the medical conditions we know about, such as, say, growth hormone de.ciency.” Now, the most common reason that somebody is short is that his parents are short—we’ll talk a little more about that later on. But using fancy words derived from Greek with a lot of syllables makes it all sound very medical, very disease-ish.
It’s not the .rst time that the medical industry has tried to sell cosmetic treatments by using a fancy medical-sounding name for the problem—they used the same trick back in the early days of breast implants.
As you might have noticed, breasts come various sizes. Some women whose breasts are on the smaller side would like them to be bigger—and, wouldn’t you know it, an industry has grown up around making money off those feelings of being too small and inadequate. The medical answer is breast implant surgery, and hundreds of thousands of women a year get the procedure done.
The companies that wanted to sell women on the idea of making their breasts bigger didn’t use plain words such as . at chested. Instead, they made it sound like a medical condition that needed treatment, and called it “micromastia.” The companies making breast implants argued that women with .at chests suffered from a lack of con. dence and would lack success in love and careers. To hear the doctors talk about it, the women were destined to have a second-class life.
And so, when the Food and Drug Administration considered giving its blessing to using growth hormone to treat the terrible disease of shortness, one of the scientists from Eli Lilly, a hormone maker, called the condition a “growth failure problem.” The scientists laid out a list of problems that short kids face that made it sound as if it would be cruel to deprive them of the solution. And the announcement from the government that the drug had been approved for merely short kids talked a lot about idiopathic short stature. It was all very medical-sounding.
Growth hormone has been a real blockbuster in the years since the approval. According to the market research company IMS Health, the growth
Excerpted from Short by John Schwartz.
Copyright © 2010 by John Schwartz.
Published in April 2010 by Roaring Book Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and
reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in
any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Posted April 20, 2013
Posted July 10, 2012
I am barely 5'1" and im a 14 yr old girl who is suppose to be done growing in a couple montgs. I have to say: i love being short! There's nothing wrong with it at all. I was surprised someone had actually wrote a book about beibg short. Lol!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 28, 2012