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Standing up, standing tall in my capri pants

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Lynne D. Schwabe Lynne D. Schwabe
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Lynne D. Schwabe was owner of Schwabe-May of Charleston, ran her own marketing consulting firm and is a nationally recognized motivational speaker. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Women's Wear Daily, and has appeared on CNBC's Power Lunch. She is now director of development for the National Youth Science Foundation. She can be reached at schwabestatejournal@gmail.com.I like to think of myself as "statuesque." OK, I'm tall. I tower over other women. My male friends like to stand on the first step and have me on the floor; it makes them feel "more powerful." When I was in sixth grade, I was the tallest person in the school, including the principal, who was a man.

I have spent my life compensating. When I was in my teens, I chose what my father referred to as "a long drink of water" for a boyfriend. At least I didn't have to consider squatting when standing next to him. I didn't affect the round-shouldered slump of some tall women, but I came up with an adaptive strategy. When at social events, I found a chair to sit in, rather than towering above people.

It has gotten better. I am not sure whether it is the fact that American nutrition has advanced, or whether the advent of the NBA has brought about evolutionary modification of the species to favor tallness, but at least now there are lots of teens and young people who are six feet or taller.

So now, I'm not even terribly tall — 5 feet, 8 1/2 inches. But in grade school, I was an extreme. Growing up, I had only one girlfriend who was my height. All the others were tiny, petite things. They were pert. I've never had a pert day in my entire life. It made me feel decidedly un-feminine. And, the untold damage to my developing psyche! After all, there were very few people I could look up to. I found a place in class pictures; I was always on the back row ("Tall people in the back!"). Even today, if a picture is being taken, I automatically gravitate to the back row.

Clothing was always problematic. Waists and hems were too short. Capri pants weren't in style, and most of the pants I tried on looked like pedal pushers. Ugh. Shoe styles that were "all the rage" stopped at size eight. I wore a 10. So while my friends wore really cute sandals and kitten heels, I had to scrounge around for the least offensive saddle shoes. I learned never to extend my arms when wearing a long-sleeved blouse, because when I did that, the cuffs quickly rose up my arm to end up somewhere in the vicinity of my elbows.

Dancing? Forget it. I was ok for "fast dancing," when partners stood a few feet apart. But when the band played "When a Man Loves a Woman," I went to the ladies room. Nothing is worse than putting one's arms around a boy who then stares directly into one's collarbone for the entire dance. That ruled out dancing close as well. I didn't fancy having my developing chest used as a pillow by a male short person. That would come later.

Tall people have larger appetites than middle-sized people. That has always been an issue. Dining out, in school cafeterias, as a dinner guest at somebody's house: never enough food. Good grief — how anyone survives on a chicken leg, two dozen peas and a tablespoon of mashed potatoes is a mystery to me. There is no way to subtly take seconds. And yes, if possible, I will want seconds — is the pope Catholic?

I have hit my head on low-lying archways, had to duck down in historical buildings, and wedge my knees into the seat in front of me on airplanes my entire adult life. I have gotten used to children looking up at me with wonder, and on many occasions had to show them my nail-polished hands to prove that I am a female (wait — it isn't that I look like Abraham Lincoln — I just have very short hair).

I have good posture, in spite of all this, because my mother drilled it into me that slumping just makes everything worse. So I walk tall, in my size 10s, wearing capri pants (thank God, now in style), flashing my manicure and carrying snacks in my purse. I have learned to take pride in my height. When I moved to Charleston, to my great delight three of my female friends were over 6 feet tall. Martha Wehrle, Dee Caperton or Martha Walker could make any tiny, pert person envious, overladen as they were with smarts, beauty and humor.

I recently watched a documentary about girls who want to become super models. All of them are much taller than I am. And few of them seem to favor saddle shoes. The tide has finally turned. Tall is beautiful. Wow.

And just as all of this is happening, just as the world is changing, I go to the doctor for my physical — to discover to my horror that I have started to shrink. Good grief! When I am walking down the hall of the nursing home with my walker, will they refer to me as a "little old lady?"