From politics to Tinder: Why do so many men still lie about their height?

Whether it’s the lifts that a politician wears to a rally or the inches that a single man adds to his height on a dating app, the world is still obsessed with the issue of male stature

Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni during a visit to Robben Island in South Africa in 2008.
Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni during a visit to Robben Island in South Africa in 2008.Gallo Images (Getty Images)

“When will the obsession with men’s height end?” The Guardian asked barely a year ago. According to the big dating applications’ communications, it is already over. Dating app Bumble assures its users that height is no longer an important issue for more than 30% of the single people who use the application.

Looking at the facts, it seems never-ending. The height filter is one of the application’s most used, and many men add a few inches to their height, and therefore give credence to the old saying that size matters. Massaging the figures of a man’s height has even entered the American presidential race. Last October Politico dedicated several column inches to analyzing whether the former Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis lied about his height and wears shoes with hidden heel lifts.

More facts: according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average height of Spanish men is 5′8″. But it only takes a quick look at dating apps to discover that their subscribers must not have been part of the studies, since a large majority is taller than that — or at least, that’s what they say.

Could neuroscience explain why so many men lie about their height? Louann Brizendine, author of The Male Brain, an essential book to understand the male mind, believes it is very simple. “Men lie about their height on social media and dating apps to increase their attractiveness to women. They believe women prefer taller, stronger men. It is considered that stronger men are better able to protect women and give them a better standard of living, since they have more power. Likewise, taller men are usually associated with higher status,” she explains.

“The male trait of height has been socially desirable for as long as scientists have been studying it, and on social media men try to present themselves in the most desirable ways possible,” she notes. She clarifies that women may also do something similar when referring to the size of their breasts, and says that it is not strange for both men and women to lie about their age on social media. Relating height to the ability to provide protection may seem surprising (and even primitive) to some, but surveys of various single women found it is common for many to still think this way.

This is the case for Ariadna, a 29-year-old physicist. “I like to feel small and protected. I recognize that if the man is my height, or shorter, I don’t have that protection. I certainly use height as a guide. If a man on a dating app says he is 5′8″, I already suspect that he is more or less my height (I am 5′7″), and I must admit that this information helps me to rule that person out. It may sound cold, but in fact, we use the applications to apply a filter that we want in life. Maybe in a real life encounter a short man could win me over, but on these apps I wouldn’t even give him a chance. That’s why I deleted them, because I want to start getting to know people on the inside.”

Tom Holland, Zendaya
Tom Holland and Zendaya at the premiere of 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' in Los Angeles in 2021.Emma McIntyre (Getty Images)

Applications like Bumble, whose developers are aware that their users sometimes set filters that are too demanding, decided to “soften the filters” a few months ago, so that users would open themselves up to suitors who went beyond their most immediate demands. “Are you seeing users appear in the list of profiles that do not fit the criteria you have established? It is probably because we have introduced a new functionality to soften your filters to give you the opportunity to see users outside your preferences,” they state.

Even undeniable idols like Spanish actor Miguel Herrán have suffered from the complexes of not being tall as in an interview with EL PAÍS, in which he explained that when he was young, his classmates told him that although he was very handsome, he was too short (he is around 5′7″). Therefore, it is not so strange that according to a statistical study by OkCupid, men usually add about two inches to their height on their profile. A popular TikTok video shows a woman toying with the idea of measuring her dates on the Hinge platform to make sure they meet the height they claim to be on their profile.

“I am 5′7 1/2″ and I admit that on dating apps I say I am 5′9″ tall. Although on more than one occasion my dates, upon seeing me face to face, have told me that I am shorter than they expected, I believe that an inch and a half extra is not an exaggeration. I found my ex-partner on a dating app, and over time, they confessed that if I had entered my real height, we would never have matched, so I don’t regret it,” admits Javier G, a 33-year-old account manager.

“Considering that on average, taller men have more status and power, the temptation to lie or exaggerate height on a man’s social media profile leads to more men lying about height,” Brizendine explains.

Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in 1998.Ron Wolfson (Getty Images)

However, it is undeniable that height is something people keep in mind, especially when the person looking for a partner has a height that deviates from the norm. This is the case for Sara García, a 41-year-old communications consultant, who is 5′11 1/2″.

“I think that when you are taller, people notice it more. When you’re a child, they put you in the back row in group photos, or they stand you alone at your communion. It looks like you are getting married, and everyone makes sure to remind you how tall you are. So, if you don’t have an environment that normalizes it — in my case, my friends were also tall — I understand that you think that height is something that matters. However, in Germany or the United States I have never seen this issue as a barrier, although perhaps it is because, on average, people are taller there,” she explains.

“Although I have never felt that flirting with men who were not my height was a barrier, it is true that I have always looked for compensation in their physical build, because in the event that they were somewhat shorter than me, I felt attracted to stronger men. But I admit that when I flirted online, height was something that worried me, and that’s why I always put it in my profile. The funny thing is that I was too lazy to think about turning up for the date and being told ‘You’re so tall!’ By the way, they always did,” she adds.

The triumph of the 5′7″ man

When talking about couples in which the man is shorter than the woman, it is quite difficult not to mention the case of Tom Cruise (who is around, or so he says, 5′7″) and Nicole Kidman, who is 5′11″. The truth is that the actor, although he has always claimed to be very proud of his height, wore lifts on the red carpet so that, visually, the difference in height between the two would not be very noticeable. Nicolas Sarkozy is 5′3″ and Carla Bruni is 5′9 1/2″. When they posed together for the cover of Paris Match, no one could miss the fact that the model and singer appeared to stand only as tall as the former president’s chin. So many memes were generated that the publication itself was forced to clarify that in the photograph it had chosen for the cover, Sarkozy was “coincidentally” standing on an upper step as the image was taken on a staircase in front of the couple’s house.

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis at a rally in South Carolina in 2023.Sean Rayford (Getty Images)

The height difference between celebrity couple Tom Holland and Zendaya was also widely commented on, although in better terms. The true height difference between them is 4 inches — but the high heels that the actress has worn to some premieres in which she posed with Holland add some extra inches. Actress Sophie Turner and the singer Joe Jonas also showed a height difference without complexes. Daniel Radcliffe, Bruno Mars, Jeremy Allen White, and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy are other examples of shorter men who are sexy, successful, or desirable at the same time.

On the big screen, we rarely see striking differences in height. However, casting director Marta Noguera denies that the actors’ height is taken into consideration when casting. “I have never encountered a casting process in which we had to take into account the height of the actors and actresses, even when creating pairs. I don’t think it’s important. In fact, a lot of the time we don’t even know how tall they are, especially if it is a process in which we ask for amateur recordings of the performers,” she explains.

“On a personal anecdote level, for a project that I was involved in during the pandemic, we did all the casting through amateur recordings and when we met all the actors and actresses in person, I was surprised at how tall everyone was. I would never have said it, not because of the tapes the actors had submitted nor because of the film!” she says. It’s OK to exaggerate in Hollywood. But on Tinder it isn’t.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS