The perfect man gets shorter? Perceptions about height are changing

EL PAÍS talked to experts about whether it’s true that heterosexual women prefer taller men

Zendaya y Tom Holland
Zendaya and Tom Holland.Albert L. Ortega (Getty Images)
Lucía Franco

It is part of popular culture: he looks at her from above and she stands on tiptoe to hang on his neck so she can kiss him. The beauty standards imposed by Hollywood for over a century have dictated that men must be taller, always, no matter what and under any circumstances.

It is worth remembering the mockery that 5′5″ Tom Cruise endured when, in the middle of his courtship with 5′9″ Nicole Kidman, he was forced to wear platforms so that she would not be taller than him in photos. Kidman was four inches taller, and any reference to height was practically a taboo topic in the couple’s interviews.

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in 1999.
Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in 1999.Leonardo Cendamo (Leonardo Cendamo)

However, for some time now, there have been more and more examples of the opposite, i.e., of men who have no problem standing at shoulder level with their girlfriends or wives on red carpets. There are also increasingly more women who don’t mind if they have to stand on tiptoe to give them a kiss. There’s Zendaya, who is 5′9″, and Tom Holland, who is two inches shorter than her. Holland, by the way, was a great fit for his height to star in the latest Spider-Man saga. What’s more, he took advantage of the promotional tour to make jokes about his height: “Recent studies suggest that the sex life of short men is more intense and satisfying,” he proudly affirmed. Nor has height prevented Rosalía, 5′4″, from being photographed making out with Jeremy Allen White, who is 5′6″.

In an interview with EL PAÍS, Spanish actor Miguel Herrán said not long ago that, although he was aware that beauty was subjective, there was a basic standard he did not meet: height. Herrán confessed that he had suffered as a child when girls told him: “Let’s see, Miguel; I like you, but you’re too short.”

To this day, he still meets people on the street who tell him that they are surprised by his height: “There are certain things in our society about which people are unabashedly opinionated. And there are other things that you can’t mess with. I experienced this the other day at the Tuschinski Theater in Amsterdam. A group of Spanish girls came up to me and said: ‘Can we tell you something? We didn’t expect you to be short.’ And I replied: ‘Well, I understand. Because it’s not the first time, I’m not offended. But it’s not nice to hear.’”

One only has to scroll through Tinder, or any other dating app, to see that most straight men include their height in their descriptions if they are tall. In some apps, like Bumble, you can even filter by height. However, a Bumble Spain study says that “Short king spring” is now a trend. “Height is no longer a requirement for over 30% of singles on Bumble, especially for generation Z, where one in three singles admitted that they are now more open to dating someone shorter than them.”

Mental connection

Emotional aspects are gaining a lot of traction in the search for new connections. “In 2024, Spanish singles are living their dating lives in a more open and exploratory way. For many people, this includes dating people [based on factors] beyond their physical appearance,” says the Bumble spokeswoman. Aida López, psychologist and director of Bangardia, concurs, adding that “Sexual role models and those related to physical and mental attraction are changing in the new generations, who attach more value to a mental connection than to a physical one.” The obsession with height has a psychological explanation: “Tall men give women the feeling of protection and security, which makes them feel more feminine,” López explains.

Another factor to consider is that average height varies greatly from country to country. According to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average height of men in Spain is 5′7″. The Danes are the tallest in Europe at an average of 5′10″ tall. So, in Denmark a 5′9″ man would be considered short, while in Spain he would be tall.

Psychologist Andrea Mezquida Ortega observes a change in the mentality of the women who go to her office: “More and more importance is attached to good emotional intelligence, affective responsibility, knowing how to communicate, and being empathetic, over something as unimportant as height,” she explains. At least in this respect, ideal men are no longer so far away.

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