Categories: Perspectives

14 Perks & Struggles Of Being A Short Girl In Singapore

Short girl problems and perks

Image adapted from: @caramellechaos

Fun-sized. Petite. Mini. Call me what you want, but here’s the truth that everyone who’s seen me IRL knows: I’m darn short, and no amount of delicately-phrased euphemisms will change that.

But it’s fine – I haven’t grown since the age of 12, and have come to terms with it a long time ago. Many other vertically-challenged people I know try to keep their height a secret, but I’m pretty open about it: My entire being measures at just 145cm. Yep, never even hit the 150s range.

Now, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m still a perfectly functioning human being, albeit one who can’t reach the top shelf.

Being short comes with its fair share of struggles, but also plenty of perks – here’s what it’s like walking in my tiny size 35 shoes, both the good and the not-so-great.

1. Your dating pool automatically increases ‘cause Singaporean guys aren’t that tall

Luckily for my not-so-tall boyfriend, I’m still at least half a head shorter than him even in 3.5” heels
Image credit: @caramellechaos

Not to sound shallow, but real talk: Most girls would prefer a boyfriend who’s taller than them, with healthy allowance for high heels. He’s cute, but he’s kinda short was never something I had to worry about. Towering at over 185cm tall? Sure, I love me a tall bloke. Relatively shorter in the 160s range? Well, why not! We’ll still be nicely proportioned next to each other.

In a country like Singapore where men aren’t that tall, it pays for a girl to be petite. My own boyfriend is a few centimetres shy of 170. Would I have considered him if I had the height of a supermodel? Even if the answer is yes, would he want to date a girl taller than him? Who knows, man. I could possibly have lost out on my soulmate and be swiping endlessly on Tinder instead of writing this article.

Image credit: @caramellechaos

With that said, love can and should transcend physical boundaries. So ladies, if you fancy a chap who’s shorter than you, go for it. Likewise, guys, if you’ve got your eye on a taller woman, don’t let your ego get in the way.

2. Messing up your entire NAPFA grade because of standing broad jump

Image credit: Catholic High

I took pride in getting Gold for all my National Physical Fitness Award (NAPFA) tests since Primary 4 and even challenged the boys to see who could do more sit-ups in a minute. Alas, that pristine streak ended in my JC years. All because of the wretched standing broad jump exercise.

The thing about the NAPFA test is that the base requirement to pass each component gets more demanding every year. Which makes sense, because a teenager should be able to run way faster than a 10-year-old. But…what is it about being able to jump further?

The mat of doom
Image credit: Javy Sports

Understandably, it takes certain leg muscle strength for you to jump far. But there has to be a limit somehow. If I remain the same height from the age of 12 all the way to 18, how could my jumping distance increase so significantly? For what it’s worth, I was already hitting a good 15cm more than my entire height with my little legs. Still, I only scraped a Bronze in JC2 despite acing the other components of the test.

Just curious: Has anyone here actually had to use their standing broad jump skills to get themselves across a ditch? ‘Cause I haven’t.

3. Being told to eat more at CNY reunion dinners even though you’re already bursting

Attempting to tackle a giant 1-metre pizza at Holey Moley, a mini-golf bar at Clarke Quay

Asian families commonly show affection through food instead of hugs and kisses, and this comes at full force when everyone’s gathered during large family dinners. Especially during Chinese New Year.

“Eat some more, then you can grow taller” and “So little food? You’re so small, must eat more!” were things I constantly heard growing up. I appreciate the kind thought, but there’s really only so much my little stomach can contain. Just like how compact cars need smaller engines to run compared to large trucks, not much sustenance is required to fuel such a tiny body. Which is great, ‘cause I get to save money by not eating as much.

Even as an adult, I still get people trying to push extra food towards me. But puberty came and went for me more than a decade ago, and others fail to realise that the only way I’ll grow if my food intake increases now is…s i d e w a y s.

4. People call you “chilli padi” if you’re fierce

Image credit: NTUC Fairprice

Some of you sassier, fiercer petites would be familiar with this very apt, very Singaporean nickname; A chilli padi may be unassumingly tiny and cute, but packs a mean punch with its lethal fireyness. Try to bite it, and you might just end up losing your sh*t.

On a related note, a friend once remarked that all the small people she knows are noisy. I don’t know how true that is – perhaps it has something to do with wanting to at least be heard if we can’t be seen. But one thing I know is this: My small frame definitely can’t contain my larger-than-life personality! *z-snap*

5. Getting away with student discounts using an ancient EZ-link

A couple of years automatically get shaved off your actual age when you’re small-sized. Couple that with a baby face and your old PE tees or class shirts, and you can easily fool others into thinking you’re a teenager. COME TO ME, STUDENT MEALS.

Just last year when I was at the ripe old age of 24, a food court vendor asked if I’d like to opt for a student set instead of my a la carte order. While I usually whip out my long-expired EZ-Link card to score such deals, I’d left it at home that day so I politely declined. But she went on to say, “Aiyah, nevermind lah, auntie knows you student can already”. Big oop. No points for guessing whether I accepted that irresistible offer or not.

P.S.: It helps if you don’t wear too much makeup if you’re planning on taking advantage of this. Looking naturally innocent is key.

6. Accepting that you’ll never be Miss Singapore or an SQ girl

Remember this Miss Singapore Universe Trump-Kim dress which sparked an insane Photoshop battle? Yeah…no thanks.
Image credit: TNP

As a young girl, I watched beauty pageants with wide, wistful eyes. Oh how I longed to sashay around in a beautiful gown and sparkly crown like a princess too! Alas, it soon became clear that being a Miss Singapore pageant queen – or a model of any sort – would be but a far-off dream thanks to the height requirements. Blame genetics.

I could only live vicariously through the girls in America’s Next Top Model’s “short cycle”, but even then, they were all 160cm-170cm tall – hardly short compared to my Asian self.

Image credit: Singapore Airlines

Another dashed dream for us shawties: Donning the iconic Singapore Girl’s kebaya uniform. I’ve personally never harboured dreams of becoming an air stewardess, but we all know how coveted that position is by many – there are a whopping 6 rounds of interviews, and some girls try multiple times even after repeated rejections. All I’m saying is, it would have been nice if I at least had the option.

Oh well, at least fellow plane passengers usually lend a hand when it comes to stuffing my baggage in the overhead compartment. Extremely helpful since I’m not a light traveller.

7. When your butt can’t reach MRT rest bars, and the hand grips are a stretch

Image credit: SG Trains

While others get to lean their bums on the horizontal rest bars in MRTs, I’m met with a cold metal piece jutting into my back. Not the most comfy, especially if I’m wearing a bareback dress.

I also don’t really utilise the hanging hand grips because my arms ache if I try to hold onto them for more than 5 minutes at a go.

But that’s okay. Short people have a lower centre of gravity and thus can balance better, so we can mostly survive in the MRT without relying on anything for support. But if the train does make a surprise jerk…we might just mistake one of you tall folk for a pole and grab onto you instead. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

8. Shopping for clothes and shoes at the kids’ section

One of my favourite sundresses from H&M Kids
Image credit: @caramellechaos

I can never buy stuff from blogshops because all their dresses have too-long bodices, too-broad shoulder widths, or hemlines that drag to my calves. And even when clothing stores have that rare “petite” section, the sizes they carry can still be too large.

Other girls’ boyfriends get them sensuous lingerie from Victoria’s Secret; My boyfriend gets me unicorn PJs for 12-year-olds from Primark.

And so, I take my sartorial pursuits to the kids’ section instead. Sizes for tweens and teens from Western brands often run larger – my favourites are H&M and Zara for stylish and relatively affordable pieces. Bonus: Children’s fashion usually costs less, and I never get caught in the same outfit as other ladies.

Coat from F21 Girls, dress from Zara Kids
Image credit: @caramellechaos

But shopping for kids’ clothes as an adult comes with downsides too. Some items don’t account for, ahem, chest space, resulting in some of them being too tight, or overly high-waisted and unflattering. Woe is picking out the perfect dress only to find yourself being unable to zip it up past mid-back ‘cause of your tatas – this can happen even if you aren’t more well-endowed than average. 

9. Getting forced to sit at the front of the class, but having a prime spot in school photos

Me in primary 2 (5th from left). Note how long my skirt was compared to the other girls’, and how my toes could barely touch the ground.

In primary school, teachers often came up with class seating arrangements based on height, which I absolutely hated because it meant I was always at the front under their watchful eyes. This meant not being able to pass notes under the table or fold paper cranes undetected.

Conversely, I always got a first-row prime spot during class photo taking sessions. Cheap thrill, but hey, it’s worth celebrating the mini victories.

10. People took extra care of you during OBS camps

Some people have the impression that small = weak, and I don’t blame them. The sight of a Hobbit-sized human being bogged down by bags as large as her body would probably be quite pity-inducing, I can imagine. As such, my peers tend to look out for me in situations which require physical exertion, and offer to carry my things.

I got fed lots of water during school camps and was periodically asked if was okay. At my sec 3 Outward Bound School (OBS) camp where we had to lug huge rucksacks of camping supplies around in the jungle, I was assigned to carry the food stash along with another tiny girl – logic being that the food would get depleted over the next few days, resulting in the bags becoming lighter.

Note that I was in a girl’s school so it’s not like anyone had to prove their “macho-ness” by taking care of me. But regardless of gender, it’s heartwarming to know that people are constantly looking out for me.

Random guys at rowdy concert mosh pits have also let me scooch in front of them, even though everyone’s ultimate goal is to get themselves as close to the band as possible. “Oi #%@!*&^, don’t push, there’s a small girl here!” one guy yelled at another as I was getting miserably squished at Avenged Sevenfold’s show. That was both amusing and relieving.

11. That sense of pride when you read Xiaxue’s iconic 2003 blog post on height

Xiaxue is significantly shorter than all her other influencer friends, but that doesn’t seem to bother her in the slightest bit
Image credit: @sophiewillocq

Those who’ve been religiously following local blogger queen Xiaxue since her early Blogspot days might recall this witty and slightly acerbic post she wrote on how having height is no big deal, and being short is amazing.  Primary school-aged me lapped it all up with admiration as it was the first time I’d seen anyone – much less a public figure – have such a refreshing take on their short stature. Usually people just lament about wishing to be taller.

Image credit: Xiaxue

The pint-sized internet celebrity is only 2-3cm taller than I, and seeing her confidently don anything she wants – including floor-length dresses – is empowering. Once, I almost shut down the idea of wearing high socks due to my short legs, but then I remembered: If Xiaxue can do it, so can I. And so, I did.

I also used to worry about not being able to have my ideal wedding dress as it would engulf my frame, but watching Xiaxue rock that poofy princess gown for her Santorini couple shoot gave me new confidence that I’d be able to find one suitable for me too. 

12. Being able to comfortably fit in those “1 Adult + 1 Child” bus seats with your BF

“What’s this got to do with height? Isn’t it just butt size?”, you’re probably wondering. One word: Proportions. Short people generally have smaller hands and feet, and similarly, our wrists, hips, and overall bone structure are also more minute. Which means we can fit into many spaces you can’t.

Singaporeans are easily paiseh and tend to shy away from “priority” seats on public transport even if no one in need is present. But hey, that works for me because when there aren’t any empty double seats available on the bus for my boyfriend and I to cosy up in, we can usually rely on the special “1 Adult + 1 Child” seat at the front.

Most people can only sit there with a sliver of space to spare, but since I’m practically child-sized, it suits us comfortably.

13. Constantly losing your friends in Orchard Road’s crowds

Image credit: Jack Kurtz

Orchard Road can be a nightmare to navigate during peak seasons like Christmas, with the entire stretch swarming with busy shoppers trying to cop the best deals. It’s easy for me to get “lost” during such periods – not because I have a bad sense of direction, but because my friends lose sight of where I am amidst the throng.

Cue their frantic glancing around, only for them to realise I’m just a few steps away. Yup, I’m down here guys, being obscured by everyone’s sweaty armpits.

14. Having to sit on an old Yellow Pages book while driving

Image credit: Car Understanding

I’ve yet to learn how to drive, but in the event that I do get around to it, I know I won’t be able to see the road properly from the driver’s seat. I’ve heard of short girls sitting on the Yellow Pages or old-school Street Directory books for an added lift, but if you don’t have those lying around in your car, it’d be good to invest in a booster seat.

Image credit: The IPKat

Life of a short girl in Singapore

With some of my ex-interns. Right after this photo was taken, they started commenting on how I look like the intern instead because I’m the shortest. Tsk. 

Repeat after me: There. Is. Nothing. Wrong. With. Being. Short. Now, my fellow vertically-challenged lads and lasses, look into the mirror and say that 10 times. And believe it.

Truth be told, I used to envy my friends during my early tween years as they all shot up the height charts while I remained stagnant down below. But even though I didn’t grow upwards, I grew to love my height and the body I was born in. I do wear heels regularly for that extra boost, but not because I’m insecure. I do it because I can.

Ultimately, the only one who can make you feel small about your height (or lack thereof) is yourself. In any case, there isn’t really any “plastic surgery” equivalent for height – unless you’re willing to go through leg-lengthening surgery, which is invasive, painful, and only adds a few inches at the most – so you’re stuck with what genetics has already set in stone. Might as well own it, and love it for what it is!

Check out other perspective articles by this author:

Rachel Yohannan

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