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January 08, 2007

Woodbury magazine review of Beyond Measure by Ellen Frankel

Karin Greenberg reviews Beyond Measure: A Memoir About Short Stature & Inner Growth by Ellen Frankel in the Winter 2006 issue of Woodbury Magazine.

Have you ever wondered that your child is too short? If not, surely you've commented on another child who seems "tiny" for his age. Height has become an obsession in our society. Starting from the time our children are infants, we study growth and weight curves with intensity. In her new book Beyond Measure: A Memoir About Short Stature & Inner Growth, Ellen Frankel, a clinical social worker, conquers this epidemic she refers to as "heightism." A thorough examination of the topic, mixed in with the author's personal journey, results in an impressive and heartfelt look at our misguided cultural expectations.

Specializing in the field of eating disorders, Frankel struggled with her own self-image. Being 4 feet 8?  inches led her to feel that she did not measure up to an ideal that was ingrained in her mind. Remembering countless times salesclerks or relatives made unsolicited comments about her height, Frankel recounts her discomfort: "I'd smile. I'd stay silent and smile. And shrink a little more inside." Detailing family trips to the endocrinologist, the author painfully displays how two loving and well-meaning parents could further diminish her self-confidence by delivering the message that something was wrong with her.

Heightism does not only affect children on the playground, as Frankel shows with her well-researched statistics. "From 1904-1984 the taller candidate won the U.S. presidential elections 80 percent of the time," she writes. Business people also suffer if they are short. In one study, "tall men (6 feet 2 inches and above) received a starting salary 12.4 percent higher than graduates of the same school who were less than 6 feet." The researcher found this to be the case, "even when the shorter applicant was a man of higher intelligence." The author points out that for women, the cultural ideal is to be in the top five percent for height, and the bottom five percent for weight. "But only five percent of the population would naturally look like this," she says.

A troubling trend has emerged, according to Frankel, which has led children's shortness to be seen as an illness. As Frankel notes, "for the most part, up until 1985, doctors pretty much accepted the fact that many healthy kids who were short as a result of genetics would grow up to be healthy short adults." Though there are children who genuinely have a bone growth delay and need growth hormone injections to insure that they will grow properly, many others are unnecessarily being given human growth hormone, which began to be used in 1958 to treat the medical disease hypopituitary dwarfism. Worried parents feel that giving their children such a shot 6 days a week for five to ten years will boost their self image. What they do not always look at are the safety and efficacy of this treatment, which has been shown to increase the height of healthy short children only about one inch.

Written with intelligence and passion, Beyond Measure is a book that will change the way you relate to life's pressures. The author's own soul searching, which culminates in the Himalayas with a breathtaking view of Mt. Everest, is a powerful testament to the fact that our physical appearance is a miniscule part of who we are and how we relate to the world and those in it.