Being tall coincides with considerable professional, athletic, and social benefits. Yet there are also some problems, and these raise some questions. For instance, if longer levers and more cells really are behind increased risk of injuries and cancer, then how is it that giraffes get by? And why is it that society reveres tall stature but then compromises our safety with cramped cars and other stuff? And, as tall women might be pondering, where have all the tall, dark, and handsome men gone? Lastly, what can be done about all this? These questions and more will all be answered by a 6′7″ protagonist over eight chapters: Evolution, Scaling, Spine, Manufactured, Ergonomics, Growth, Longevity, and Society. Tall people, those who relate to them, and those simply interested in height or the covered topics will all find this book fascinating.
For the same reason that things are rarely manufactured for tall people, there aren’t many books written for us either; it’s not economical given how few of us there are. This doesn’t mean there aren’t important things to say—quite the contrary. In fact, there’s a massive void in the literature on tall stature. I hope this book will begin to fill it.
If you search the web, you’ll find out some great things about being tall—like the fact that we tend to have more successful careers. But you’ll hear a whole lot more about the problems. Giving weight to this is the popularity of the phrase, “tall people problems”. The phrase “tall people solutions”, on the other hand, is virtually unheard of. So this book is fairly unique in that the purpose is to solve the problems. It’s also to raise awareness and give perspective. Along the way, I’m certain you’ll also learn some fascinating, even astonishing things about your height.
At 6′7″, I’ve been compared to a giraffe on more than one occasion. The giraffe-tall person comparison has become a cliché. However, besides both being relatively tall, there’s a lot more to this comparison than most people are aware of. And surprisingly, it’s actually our differences with giraffes that can reveal the most important implications of tall stature. After you read the first chapter, Evolution, I think you’ll agree that nothing could be more appropriate than a giraffe for the cover of this book.
In the second chapter, Scaling, I explain how the properties of the body change with height. For instance, while we have greater absolute strength, we actually have lesser relative strength, as per the square-cube law. This explains why we’re good at lifting heavy things but then struggle with push-ups and chin-ups. Similarly, while we use more energy in the absolute sense, we actually use less in the relative sense.
In the third chapter, Spine, I discuss our increased risk of injuries, particularly back injuries. The usual explanations are “longer levers” and “The bigger they are, the harder they fall”. But aren’t our bigger bodies also stronger? And if large size is such a problem, then how is it that giraffes get by? I answer these questions in this chapter. I also present some practical suggestions on exercises, activities, and strategies to prevent and recover from back injuries, all in the context of tall stature. Much of this chapter draws on the work of the world renowned spine researcher, Stuart McGill, whom I had the good fortune of meeting while struggling with my own back pain.
While we’re naturally at greater risk of injury, the ergonomic hazards caused by ill-fitting manufactured objects, like cars, desks, and kitchens, worsen matters. As to why these hazards exist, that’s because of a mechanism known as the economy of scale. But such advancements as mass customization, on-demand manufacturing, and 3D printing will make life easier for us. All this is covered in chapter four, Manufactured, along with my own personal case study on cars.
The full realization of these advancements may not occur for some time. While we wait, we can learn to better adapt. This is the topic of the fifth chapter, Ergonomics. Being a DIY enthusiast, I’ve had a lot of fun with adapting. I’ve made a long snow shovel, a raised cutting board, and some handy modifications to my methodically selected car. More generally, I’ve adapted how I interact with most objects. I share all of this in this most practical chapter.
For the remainder of the book, I transition away from the mechanical perspective. In the sixth chapter, Growth, I briefly summarize how people grow tall in the first place and how to predict adult height. I also summarize height-related disorders, recognize some of the world’s tallest people, and explore the bizarre business of intentionally shrinking people.
I’d never actually heard of this practice until I started researching for this book. Perhaps this is because society associates tall stature with many benefits including good health. However, recently there’s mounting evidence that extremely tall people, such as myself, are at increased risk of disease. The data on cancer risk is particularly convincing. The common explanation is that tall people have more cells and so a higher probability of developing cancer. But if size is such a problem, then how can it be that larger species tend to live longer? I answer this question and more in chapter seven, Longevity, while touching on perspective and prevention.
Unlike the topics I’ve mentioned thus far, the social issues revolving around tall stature get a fair bit of media coverage. Specifically, the fact that we tend to earn more money and have more successful careers draws a lot of envy, to the point where a ‘tall tax’ has been proposed. Similarly, there are those wishing to weed us out of the human race because of our supposed greater usage of the planet’s resources. And parallel to all this, society crams us into tiny cars and airplane seats. I tackle all of these issues in chapter eight, Society. Also in this chapter are some positive and helpful insights for tall women.
Finally, the Afterward is my own tall tale of the events that led to the writing of this book. In particular, I go into detail about the role my height played in becoming a chronic back pain sufferer, but also how I recovered.
I’ve ordered the chapters of this book so as to first build a theoretical foundation before moving on to the more practical content. However, I’ve also written them in such a way that they can stand on their own. So, please consider beginning with whatever chapter interests you most. Think of this book as a kind of resource to be referred back to rather than a story you read from start to finish only once.
Before getting started, let’s consider the title of this book. The first word is a rather popular one. If you search the web for the word ‘tall’, you get over half a billion results at the time of writing this. But what does it mean?
In the broadest sense, tall simply means above average height. A more technical definition is, two standard deviations above average. This is about the ninety-eighth percentile. To help distinguish between various degrees of tall, I like to use the terms ‘kinda tall’ and ‘extremely tall’ as shown in the curves below that I created from US height data.1 These curves would of course change for different populations and ages.
From these curves, it’s clear that most people are near average, some are kinda tall, few are tall, and extremely tall people are rare indeed. Being an outlier has considerable implications both in the artificial and natural sense. Throughout this book, I show that being tall affects just about every aspect of our lives.
And this is why ‘life’ is the second word in the title of this book. It’s an even more popular word, with nearly six billion search results. This is perhaps because of its broad usage. It can be used anywhere from the pop culture sense as in a lifestyle magazine, to the most scientific as in the existence and workings of an organism. As you’ll see, it’s applicable in this book across the spectrum.
When you take these two words of the title, Tall and Life, and put a dot between them, you get the address of the website that carries on the discussion of height and tall stature beyond the covers or bytes of this book. As you work your way through this book, please check out www.Tall.Life and join in the discussion.
Finally, I’d like mention a few points on my own expertise. I have a PhD in mechanical engineering and my research and work have related to mass customization and biomechanics. This expertise is only relevant for about half the book. Nevertheless, given my experience as a researcher, I’m confident that I’ve done a decent job on the rest of the book. Really though, I don’t intend for this book to be for anything other than information purposes. For more than that, I’d point you to the many books and journal articles I cite and professionals I mention.
Now, without further ado, let’s turn to our tall friends, the giraffes, as we cultivate an understanding of human height and tall stature through the lens of evolutionary theory.
- Anthropometric Reference Data for Children and Adults : United States ,. Centers Dis Control Provention. 2010.