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Short of Leg

by Julia Sneden

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a reader who had apparently gone to a search engine and found one of my old columns entitled Short Shrift in which I bemoaned my short stature. The reader understood my plaint, and described both herself and her husband as being short-legged. She wanted to know if I had ever discovered any advantages to having short legs.

Actually, it wasn’t a question I’ve ever contemplated. I was the shortest in all my school classes. Once my children reached adolescence, I quickly became the shortest person in my family. And I’ve had to shorten, by about three inches, every single skirt or pair of pants I’ve ever bought. Simple acceptance seems the most viable attitude. I mean, why lie awake worrying about what you can’t change?

Oh, I’ll grant you that I am occasionally green with envy when I see pictures of models whose gorgeous, long legs start somewhere just below their armpits. Then, too, I’d like to be able to reach my brake and accelerator without having to pull the seat so close to the steering wheel that the air bag will one day decapitate me. But what’s the point in beating yourself up over the genes that have been dealt to you? I tell myself that there are plenty of good things that go with those genes, too.

But I knew where the reader was coming from, and in an effort to offer her a positive response, I spent an hour or two trying to figure out some “Short Legs Aren’t All Bad” theories.

  • People with short legs are closer to their shoes, which makes tying easier. The same goes for cutting or painting your toenails.

(No, I decided: Everything is proportionate. People with long legs also have long arms).

  • In exercise class, people with short legs don’t have to reach as far to touch their toes.

(Same proportional thing, I told myself).

  • If your legs are short and you fall, you’re closer to the ground, so you don’t hit as hard.

(Ever hear of Galileo and his experiments with dropping objects off the Leaning Tower? They travel at the same speed.)

  • When I walk with my tall stepsister, I have to take two steps to her every one, so I’m getting more exercise.

(Aha! At last, a plus, although I am sweaty, red in the face and out of breath, while she saunters along looking cool and beautiful ...)

  • When I bend over to pick up a baby or toddler, I don’t have to bend as far.

(A back saver! Of course I don’t have as much back to save).

  • My heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump the blood all the way down to and up from my feet.

(My varicose veins question this one, but it makes sense to me.)

  • My feet don’t hang over the bottom of the bed, or un-tuck the top sheet.

(Well ... unless I’m having an unusually squirmy night).

  • When my legs hurt, the pain is no less, but there’s less leg to hurt.

(Some comfort, that).

  • Perhaps ladders are easier to climb, when you’re not trying to manage all that leg?

  • Bathtubs fit better!

(Now if only I weren’t a shower person ...)

In the long run (and short legs are lousy for long runs), I know that resenting one’s physique is not worth the moan. The gene pool is a lottery, and some people get luckier than others. There were plenty of genetic chances for me to be tall and slim, but nobody asked my parents (let alone me) for preferences.

I am reminded of the time my asthmatic son was suffering from a whopping attack. He turned to my asthmatic father and muttered: “Gee, Grandpa, thanks for the asthma genes.”

My father gave him a long, level look, and then a big smile. “Sorry,” he said, “but remember, they do go with the brains.”

Maybe the gene for optimism is the best of the lot.



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