The Tall Girl by Charles Dudley Warner

Story type: Essay

It is the fashion for girls to be tall. This is much more than saying that tall girls are the fashion. It means not only that the tall girl has come in, but that girls are tall, and are becoming tall, because it is the fashion, and because there is a demand for that sort of girl. There is no hint of stoutness, indeed the willowy pattern is preferred, but neither is leanness suggested; the women of the period have got hold of the poet’s idea, “tall and most divinely fair,” and are living up to it. Perhaps this change in fashion is more noticeable in England and on the Continent than in America, but that may be because there is less room for change in America, our girls being always of an aspiring turn. Very marked the phenomenon is in England; on the street, at any concert or reception, the number of tall girls is so large as to occasion remark, especially among the young girls just coming into the conspicuousness of womanhood. The tendency of the new generation is towards unusual height and gracious slimness. The situation would be embarrassing to thousands of men who have been too busy to think about growing upward, were it not for the fact that the tall girl, who must be looked up to, is almost invariably benignant, and bears her height with a sweet timidity that disarms fear. Besides, the tall girl has now come on in such force that confidence is infused into the growing army, and there is a sense of support in this survival of the tallest that is very encouraging to the young.

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Many theories have been put forward to account for this phenomenon. It is known that delicate plants in dark places struggle up towards the light in a frail slenderness, and it is said that in England, which seems to have increasing cloudiness, and in the capital more and more months of deeper darkness and blackness, it is natural that the British girl should grow towards the light. But this is a fanciful view of the case, for it cannot be proved that English men have proportionally increased their stature. The English man has always seemed big to the Continental peoples, partly because objects generally take on gigantic dimensions when seen through a fog. Another theory, which has much more to commend it, is that the increased height of women is due to the aesthetic movement, which has now spent its force, but has left certain results, especially in the change of the taste in colors. The woman of the aesthetic artist was nearly always tall, usually willowy, not to say undulating and serpentine. These forms of feminine loveliness and commanding height have been for many years before the eyes of the women of England in paintings and drawings, and it is unavoidable that this pattern should not have its effect upon the new and plastic generation. Never has there been another generation so open to new ideas; and if the ideal of womanhood held up was that of length and gracious slenderness, it would be very odd if women should not aspire to it. We know very well the influence that the heroines of the novelists have had from time to time upon the women of a given period. The heroine of Scott was, no doubt, once common in society–the delicate creature who promptly fainted on the reminiscence of the scent of a rose, but could stand any amount of dragging by the hair through underground passages, and midnight rides on lonely moors behind mailed and black-mantled knights, and a run or two of hair-removing typhoid fever, and come out at the end of the story as fresh as a daisy. She could not be found now, so changed are the requirements of fiction. We may assume, too, that the full-blown aesthetic girl of that recent period–the girl all soul and faded harmonies–would be hard to find, but the fascination of the height and slenderness of that girl remains something more than a tradition, and is, no doubt, to some extent copied by the maiden just coming into her kingdom.

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Those who would belittle this matter may say that the appearance of which we speak is due largely to the fashion of dress–the long unbroken lines which add to the height and encourage the appearance of slenderness. But this argument gives away the case. Why do women wear the present fascinating gowns, in which the lithe figure is suggested in all its womanly dignity? In order that they may appear to be tall. That is to say, because it is the fashion to be tall; women born in the mode are tall, and those caught in a hereditary shortness endeavor to conform to the stature of the come and coming woman.

There is another theory, that must be put forward with some hesitation, for the so-called emancipation of woman is a delicate subject to deal with, for while all the sex doubtless feel the impulse of the new time, there are still many who indignantly reject the implication in the struggle for the rights of women. To say, therefore, that women are becoming tall as a part of their outfit for taking the place of men in this world would be to many an affront, so that this theory can only be suggested. Yet probably physiology would bear us out in saying that the truly emancipated woman, taking at last the place in affairs which men have flown in the face of Providence by denying her, would be likely to expand physically as well as mentally, and that as she is beginning to look down upon man intellectually, she is likely to have a corresponding physical standard.

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Seriously, however, none of these theories are altogether satisfactory, and we are inclined to seek, as is best in all cases, the simplest explanation. Women are tall and becoming tall simply because it is the fashion, and that statement never needs nor is capable of any explanation. Awhile ago it was the fashion to be petite and arch; it is now the fashion to be tall and gracious, and nothing more can be said about it. Of course the reader, who is usually inclined to find the facetious side of any grave topic, has already thought of the application of the self-denying hymn, that man wants but little here below, and wants that little long; but this may be only a passing sigh of the period. We are far from expressing any preference for tall women over short women. There are creative moods of the fancy when each seems the better. We can only chronicle, but never create.

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