No Longer a Standout
Graduating from college during a pandemic was anticlimactic in many ways. Instead of the big family party we had planned, my parents and I ordered takeout to celebrate the night after my senior thesis presentation, which I delivered on Zoom from my childhood bedroom. For my graduation ceremony (prerecorded online, of course) I wore the free cap provided by my university and plain clothes – ordering a gown and dressing up for the occasion no longer seemed necessary. And perhaps most disappointing of all, getting a job proved nearly impossible. Hardly any positions were available that were relevant to my degree (and with LinkedIn’s convenient and demoralizing application monitoring feature, I noted that most of them had 200+ applicants before I even saw the posting). In the second half of June, once I was no longer a student, I averaged 2-3 submitted applications per day. With few organizations acknowledging my application was received, and fewer still sending the courtesy rejection (Thank you for your application. We have moved on with another candidate whose experience more closely aligns with our organization’s needs.), I began to realize that just as I was no longer a student, I also was no longer a standout. The Latin honors and Phi Beta Kappa membership I was told would look great on my resume did not seem to matter when applicant lists were a mile long. My writing skills that landed me a tutoring job in college did little to draw potential employers’ attention to my applications with their carefully crafted cover letters.
But then, something changed. I got a part time internship that was exactly in my field of interest. I started getting interviews. Sometimes, I got second interviews. And then, finally, I got a job offer! During this process, I realized, I had met and begun working with many new faces. I chose that word, faces, deliberately – not as synecdoche as much as a literal description – because meeting these people on Zoom, that’s essentially all I saw. It occurred to me, after meeting several of my new coworkers, that I am similarly just a face. For once in my life, the people I’m interacting with every day have never seen my whole body. And that means none of them have any idea that I’m, like, really tall.
I’m 6’2” and female, which puts me about a whole foot above the average woman, and more than half a foot above the average man. (Men from the tallest country in the world – The Netherlands – still average 3” shorter than myself.) All my life, my height has been the first thing people notice about me. I’ve always been the “tall girl” – often with other adjectives mixed in (“the tall white girl,” “the tall quiet girl,” and “the tall nerdy girl”, to name a few) but “tall” is always in there. It has impacted every first impression I’ve ever made – often leading to false impressions that I might be a superstar athlete (these couldn’t be further from the truth). I used to wish I could just hide, be a normal height, not stand out in a crowd. I even chose to study abroad in Scandinavia partly because I wanted to live in a country where I blended in a bit more. Since returning, I have become more comfortable in my own skin, but also more grateful for the diversity of my Bay Area hometown, where everyone can stand out in unique ways. I began to feel comfortable standing out, and had perhaps finally accepted that my height will always be the first feature people notice about me, when everything changed. COVID hit, and Zoom became our new normal. Earlier in the year, I had debated whether to wear heels for my thesis presentation – I wanted to be appropriately dressed for the formal occasion, but I also dreaded towering over my professors, male and female alike.
This dilemma was avoided thanks to Zoom, however; I ended up presenting barefoot! All that mattered was what was coming out of my little box on the screen – the rest of me, for once in my life, was out of view – and therefore free from judgment.
It’s nice to be seen for once not as that “tall girl”. The absence of an obvious descriptor makes space for many new ones, all ones that (I hope) would be attributes I can control, rather than one predetermined by genetics. Sometimes I wonder, when I eventually meet my coworkers in person, if they’ll comment on my height. (You didn’t seem tall over Zoom!) But ultimately, I don’t think it will bother me much. Their first impressions of me have already been formed, based on qualities that actually matter. While work may soon return to normal, in-person interactions for all of us (and there will be many reasons to be thankful for that), working on Zoom has given me a glimpse of what I hope for in my future: any reasons I may stand out will be entirely unrelated to my height.