Shorter But Not Sweeter

Mar 01

What me? A Napoleon Complex?

Certainly not! Although I have never measured more than a less-than-towering 5’2,” I never minded being what we vertically-challenged individuals of the female persuasion like to call “petite.” So much nicer than “short,” “low to the ground,” or god forfend, “squat.”

But now I see in the New York Post, that bastion of rational reporting, that, and I quote, “The Napoleon Complex has been scientifically proven.” And so, it opines, shorter is not usually sweeter. Really?

The paper claims that “new research” suggests that people who are “relatively short—”and unhappy about it”—try to offset their lack of height with antagonistic behaviors.

Sez who???

Well, a crowdsourcing site, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, says so, for one. It asked participants to take the “Dirty Dozen Dark Triad” questionnaire, which is designed to assess levels of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism.” In case you didn’t catch that last one, it’s a particularly nasty personality trait characterized by being more manipulative and cynical than the average Joe, and get this, “lacking in morality.”

I am outraged! Not for me, but for all the smallish humans who walk (granted, a little lower to the ground than most) among us. I, as I have noted above, have never had a problem with my height, which is now reduced to a pixyish 5’1.” In fact, I’ve sometimes found it to be an advantage.

When I was much younger, like back in middle school, I got asked to all the dances because the boys, who hadn’t had their growth spurt yet (if they ever would), weren’t intimidated by me, and picked me as a partner. Later on, there was never a guy I dated with whom I had to wear flats. That meant something back then. We lived in heels.

My experience does dovetail with the Post article in that it says that men are more bothered by short statures than women. I have noticed that. But what, exactly, is a Napoleon Complex, I wondered?

Well, as per my online dictionary, it’s “a domineering or aggressive attitude perceived as a form of overcompensation for being physically small or short.” Note the word “perceived.”

The Post says you have to understand it from an evolutionary point of view. Well, I guess a short caveman would have to get down and dirty literally to fight against a taller one, but it would seem to me that that dynamic would have changed over time given the nature of society today. The Post says that it hasn’t. Small people, especially men, still strive more for power than taller ones.

OTOH: Wikipedia infers that the Napoleon complex is a myth.
It was named, as is evident, for Napoleon, who is now believed to have been above average height for the time (5’11”), but was “mocked in British newspapers as a short-tempered small man.” I bet the editors didn’t mean that literally, but that’s how rumors—and myths—get started.

And the myth (or perhaps some kernel of truth) lives on, and is even promoted by researchers, like Peter K. Jonason of the University of Padua in Italy, who says that “Shorter people, especially those who wish they were taller, are more characterized by traits that are likely to make them show off, be confrontational, and interested in power.” Well, and I’m just guessing here, Mr. Jonason just might be average or above average height (the name sounds Scandinavian), and would have had multiple experiences with shorter people (men) in Italy, which is not known for producing giants, including yours truly. And some  of these experiences were not, how you say, molto bene.

Moving along,  I tried to think of short men who fit the mold. Michael Bloomberg came to mind, but only for the power part: he is a very nice and generous man in other ways. James Cagney fits the profile in his screen roles, as per IMDB, and I believe anything they say. Prince was only 5’2”! We could have made a cute couple on the dance floor. Winston Churchill is cited as having this complex, but he was 5’7,” which isn’t that short in my book. Same for Tom Cruise. Lil’ Wayne is just 5’5″, which could probably account for his name. Ya think?

Perhaps it comes down to the classic question, “Does size matter?” And if so, I got to thinking, does compensating for lack of height make a man a better lover? We learned this possibility in that hysterical SATC episode where Samantha dates a man who barely reaches, well, anywhere important. She calls him a horny Smurf, and drops him (figuratively) only when she learns that he gets his clothes at the boys department at Saks. It was a brief too far.

Randy Newman thinks that “Short people got no reason to live.”

And won an Oscar for saying so. But he probably was being ironic because he doesn’t look that tall himself, and his actual height is conspicuously missing from his Wikipedia Page.

But who cares! We shorties live longer (I just made that up but it sounds so right) than oversized people, who take up lots more space than we do. We do more with less, and we’re proud of it, Napoleon Complex or not.

Besides, did you ever hear of a tall war hero with his very own complex? I was going to mention that French guy, but I didn’t have de Gaulle.

Sorry about that, people. See you next time.







  1. Sharon /

    If you didn’t make up the thing about short people

    living longer I would have. It does sound so right doesn’t it? I hope it’s true!

  2. Diana /

    And leave a smaller carbon footprint?

    • Yes! Nobody gives us credit for that. But life is so unfair, is it not.

  3. My older sister who became a widow a few years ago has a “problem” with going out with men shorter than her. Is there a name for that complex?
    The animal world is full of mating examples showing the importance of various physical appearances. So I think this Napoleon thing is true.

    • Actually, I had that problem too, and always seemed more attracted to taller men. (Of course, almost anyone is taller than I am.) A boyfriend once said that it was a subconscious desire for tall genes so that I wouldn’t have short children, but that was back then and would no longer apply. The man I’m seeing now is a bit above average height, and that works out just fine.

  4. Hmmm. I’m 5″7′. Always wanted to be not so tall. Why? I was convinced that short folks were the successful folks. “The shorties have the power!” I thought. Maybe if I slouch? Silly idea. Tom Cruise, Michael Fox, Al Pacino, Danny DeVito… Maybe not Danny DeVito, but. In my old age these days I’m beginning to shrink most likely. Success still doesn’t seem to be in my future. Who knew?
    ps-the middle school guys didn’t want to date you due to your petiteness. They wanted you ’cause you’re so durn cute!
    pps-I saw Prince with his body guards once. He was hanging out at Nell’s, a NYC club where my band often performed. Prince & you would have definitely made a good couple. A little strange in apprearance, perhaps. I can imagine it clearly. But that’s what the public likes. Right?

    • The thing about being 5’7″ is that you have some inches to spare. At five feet two I didn’t! I’m now 5 feet one, but that was last year. . . At some point I will be able to truthfully say that I am five feet nothing, which has kind of a nice ring to it.
      As for the boys of my youth: when I went to a high school reunion some years ago, several of them (now hardly youthful) told me that they had crushes on me back then. Well, great. But I needed the validation back then, not now! And yes, when we are that young, we need all the validation we can get!

  5. Lucille /

    Very punny, Pat.

    • They say the phrase “bad pun” is redundant, and I think I’ve proved it here.But thanks.

  6. Irene /

    Hi Pat,
    I wanted to tell you how much I’m enjoying your blog.
    It’s so funny and so true!

    • Well, the truth is often funnier than fiction, and I’m never short of subjects.
      Pun intended.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *