Sisterhood Blog

Tales of Being a Tall Girl

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

For 6’1” German filmmaker Edda Baumann-Von Broen, being a very tall woman is one thing. Being the mother of a young daughter who is also going to be exceptionally tall is another.

Looking at her daughter, she realized that being tall is not something unique, but rather a trait and experience shared by many young women and girls. She wonders, “As a mother I can’t help but ask, will my daughter have to go through the same struggles I did? How do I guide her in the right direction?”

Baumann-Von Broen made the 2012 documentary film “Tall Girls” in an attempt to answer these questions. In it, she profiles seven German, Austrian, Dutch and American girls and women to learn more about how they see themselves in a world where they can’t help but always be seen.

Although Arianne Cohen is Jewish, it is not explicitly mentioned in the film. But there are other Jewish women of such height and The Sisterhood spoke with three of them to learn about their experiences and to gain their perspectives on the issues the film raises.

In “Tall Girls,” two of the young women, American Michelle Buswell and Estonian Tiiu Kuik, are both 6’2” models living and working in New York. They have found success despite initially having been turned down for jobs for being too tall. Another young women profiled, Arianne Cohen, is the 6’3” author of “The Tall Book.”

The film also follows four teenagers, including Lisa, a 6’6” New Yorker whose mother pushed her into playing basketball, and who is now passionate about and successful in the sport. Twelve-year-old Lea lives in Germany, and at 5’11” opts for off-label hormone treatment to stunt her growth. Sarah, a Viennese 12-year-old, undergoes surgery in an attempt to keep her from reaching a projected 6’3”. A 19-year-old Dutch woman named Lieke underwent the same surgical procedure, but now regrets it.

“When I watched the film, I remembered that my childhood really did suck,” said 6’1’’ Faye Bittker. Like the girls in the film, Bittker, now 51 and living near Beersheva, Israel, was taken to growth specialists and endocrinologists for assessment as a pre-teen. “I was just about 6’ and wearing a size 13 shoe by age 11 or 12,” she recalled. “I was voted klutziest kid at summer camp.”

Bittker opted against medical treatments, as did Lisa Greenberg, now 49. Greenberg, who is 6’3” and lives in Oakland, California, remembers debating with her parents whether to take the hormones or not. “In the end, I told myself, ‘You are going to be tall, so deal with it. Don’t flaunt it, but don’t hide it either.’”

Her mother’s putting her in modeling school when she was a young teen helped, as did her taking up basketball and especially volleyball in a serious way in high school and college. Moving in these circles where her height was appreciated was an important counterbalance to the teasing she endured from classmates at Hebrew school.

For Bittker, having other tall women with positive outlooks around her helped. “I had great role models…tall women who stood up straight.” One of those role models was her 6’1” mother, who opened a chain of shoe stores for tall women (carrying large sizes) when the salesperson at a local shop said all he had to offer Bittker was a pair of shoe boxes to wear on her feet.

Bittker jokes that when she was growing up in Rochester, New York, she was certain that hers was the tallest Jewish family in the Western Hemisphere. Her family — she, her mother, her 6’6” father, 5’11” sister and 6’5” brother — were quite a scene when they entered the synagogue together.

Unlike Greenberg and Bittker, Long Islander Sheri Suzzan did not have a growth spurt until her mid-to-late teens. Now, 48 and standing just shy of 6 ft., she does not perceive herself as a tall woman in quite the same way. “I never had a tall perception of myself, and neither did others,” she said.

Suzzan likes her height, as Bittker and Greenberg like theirs now. “Height gives you a real presence, and you can wear clothes easily,” Suzzan said. “People say they wish there were as tall as me.”

“Sometimes I wish I could be incognito,” shared Bittker. “But [my height] is a good conversation starter and people remember me.” She also pointed out that the world looks at tall people as more authoritative.

Many tall women enjoy being able to eat proportionately more than shorter women and being able to hide a small or moderate weight gain more easily. More frustrating for the women interviewed, as well as for those in the film, is the fact that there are few men taller than they are to date. It is less of an issue for the young women in the film that it was for Jewish women growing up several decades ago. Back then their mothers encouraged them to exclusively date taller men and Jewish men — an exceptionally hard-to-find combination.

Greenberg recalled dating tall guys, even if she didn’t particularly like them. By contrast, Bittker said she only dated one or two men who were taller than she. “Tall is not something to build a relationship on,” Bittker, happily married many years to a man shorter than she, said.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sisterhood, tall women, mothers, jewish women

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.