My body doesn't fit

Humdrum 57

So as I write this, I'm sitting at bar in O’Hare airport in Chicago, killing time before I hop on a plane for a work trip. I should actually be working since it's 4pm.

I like sitting at the actual bar, marveling at all the bottles of booze (do they have any gins I like?!) and watching bartenders mix drinks. But the bar is not a comfortable place to sit. At 5’2”, it’s a pain for me to get settled onto a barstool. I can’t simply sit, I have to hoist myself up to get my ass on the seat. Half the time I wind up too far away from the bar so I have to stretch my arms to get my drink. I have to fold myself in half to eat. In order to get myself into a less awkward position, I climb down from the stool, push it closer to the bar, and then hoist myself up again.

This whole process makes me feel like I’m a five year-old.

Being a short person in the world is frustrating. And 5’2” for a woman isn’t even that small. But it is small enough and annoying. I also possess a tiny set of hands and feet. Rings and bracelets fly off my digits; size 6 shoes can flop off my feet. The kids department suffices in a pinch.

I am a slightly more dramatic example of a simple truth: this world was not built for women. It was built for men. 

One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, articulated this with science. In the episode Invisible Women, writer Caroline Criado Perez discusses her book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. It’s about how data is collected (for a range of things, cars to heart attacks, etc.) and how women are often not included in research studies. Or, they are initially, but their data is ultimately excluded from the final findings. Because periods or other aggravating nonsense.

Car crash test dummies, for example, were modeled after the male body only.  If you have breasts, you know how uncomfortable and obnoxious seat belts can be. The researchers didn’t think and/or care about this! In some cars, I feel the seatbelt rubbing against my neck. Petite frames were also not taken under consideration.

It’s infuriating to learn how for so long, a bunch of dudes decided that half the population’s experiences weren’t worth much thought, or weren’t valid, weren’t worth recording. On top of that, I’m boggled by the arrogance and shitty decision-making at play, by the researchers and men overseeing the manufacturing of products. I’m a researcher for a living (working on apps and websites) and I’d need a damn good reason to exclude such a huge sample. I mean really, how hard is it to get feedback from women? IT’S NOT.  

Before I listened to this podcast, I hadn’t devoted much energy to thinking of the ways that my body is uncomfortable. How tables, for example, are usually too high and I have to scrunch my shoulders up to use a fork and knife. How backpacks are often too long for my squat frame. How I tense my thighs and hips constantly on the bus so I can anchor my lower body to something, even itself because my feet don’t completely touch the floor.

My feet rarely totally touch the floor anywhere. My office chair at work, my couch, my friends' dining room table. I fold my legs under me or swing my legs back-and-forth. I hardly notice unless someone points it out. I wonder if my constant restlessness is just me being antsy or a product of how I’m rarely, actually, truly comfortable.

How do we fix this problem? Gather more data, diverse data, better data. With information that reflects the lives and experiences of the range of people who live in the world, we can design a world that fits different bodies.  

Reading | Watching | Listening

Glynnis MacNicol writes about choosing to be a single women at age 40 in my new favorite memoir, No One Tells You This. The Love by Numbers series by Sarah MacClean. (But skip the last book; it’s terrible). Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, a graphic novel. The lingering of loss. John Green reviews all things human (Tetris, Taco Bell’s breakfast menu, prom, pennies, etc.) on the podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed. Re-watching the best Star Wars movie, Rogue One.

About this newsletter

Humdrum is written by Christina Brandon. Now, she’s sitting cross-legged in her office chair at home. Purchase her memoir Failing Better anywhere you want, including Amazon. Connect with her by replying to this email or jumping on Twitter or Instagram. And tell friends to subscribe!