Column: Bigger isn’t always better

“For the first time, I realized that I was big. Not big as in confident or loud. Big as in a tall, sweaty giraffe trying to make her way through a herd of mice without stepping on anyone.” (Maya Hernandez)

The ballroom reeked of sweat and Axe. We were 12 or 13 years old, the worst time to be alive. Sweating through our formal wear, we stood boy-girl-boy across the edges of the ballroom.

“Foxtrot, everybody!” bellowed the cotillion teacher.

We obeyed. I turned to the 4’11” boy next to me, pulling at the dainty white gloves that barely covered my hands.

He stared up at me with a look that seemed to say, “How am I going to reach her waist?”

So I angled my neck down dramatically and reached down until my fingertips could reach his small, small shoulders.

Fox-trotting with a boy half my size was as awkward as it sounds.

I’ve been bigger than my peers since birth. Not overweight, but larger. My parents aren’t exactly giants, so I don’t understand why, but I am 5’9”. The average height for girls my age is 5’4”.

Once when I was complaining to my mother about it, she gave the most exasperated of sighs and said, “Muna, if you could just see how big and beautiful you are, you would know that you turned out just fine.”

I refrained from telling her that “big and beautiful” seem like words to describe a well-groomed horse.

In elementary school, I loved my size. When we lined up by height for picture day, I would puff out my chest and take first place in line. Some of the boys in class and I would stand side by side daily, just to see who was taller. I won every time, and I would let everybody know it.

But in middle school, everything that I liked about myself suddenly became embarrassing, including my size.

For the first time, I realized that I was big. Not big as in confident or loud. Big as in a tall, sweaty giraffe trying to make her way through a herd of mice without stepping on anyone.

I outgrew all my sparkly Justice clothes, so my parents started sending me to school in size medium women’s blouses. The boys who used to measure against me every day barely looked my way anymore. Instead, they succumbed to loudly listing the small, cute girls they liked.

My name was never called.

My mother’s assurances were of no help. “This is just your awkward stage,” she told me again and again. “You’re going to be very lovely one day, just you see.”

And still, I grew.

In freshman year, I joined Young and Purposed, the female Christian club at school. Despite being 14, I towered over everybody there, and would try unsuccessfully to look as small as possible. I remember hunching in my chair one day as we discussed our weeks, and tensing up when the subject turned to growth.

One of the smaller girls spoke up and said, “I’m still really short. My parents are tall, so I’m supposed to be too, but…” She laughed.

If courage had outweighed insecurity, I would have told her that being tall isn’t all reaching high shelves, and being picked first for grade school sports.

It’s showing up to the first day of school with your head down, praying that you aren’t the only one who grew three inches over the summer. It’s ducking when the annoying 5’0” boy in your class complains that he can’t see the board past your head. It’s the constant feeling that you’re taking up too much space.

But as I thought more about it, I realized that she felt like she didn’t take up enough.

I would like to say that I magically became more comfortable in my own skin, or that I suddenly stopped wearing extra large shirts to hide my body. But that just isn’t how the shift from insecurity to confidence works.

For me, it works by understanding that the girl you wish you were isn’t as confident as you think. It works by knowing that you aren’t the only one who feels like an impostor in your own body.