Tall, dark and handsome has long been the hot man holy trinity. There’s excitement in tilting your head up to look into somebody’s eyes before you kiss. Comfort in feeling their chin rest on the top of your head as you hug. But the tides are turning in the seas of lust.
The shift started, as trends now so frequently do, with Zendaya. At 5ft 8, she stands two inches above Tom Holland - glamorously unbothered by their height difference. An opposer to the ‘I can’t wear heels now’ ideology, she strode onto the red carpet at the Spider-Man No Way Home premiere in five-inch Louboutins and slipped her arm around his waist. It looked sexy – and powerful.
From Tom and Zendaya to Sophie Turner (5’9) and Joe Jonas (5’7) there is now a veritable thirst for shorter men. TikTok has dubbed the movement Short King Spring and Daniel Radcliffe (5’4), Bruno Mars (5’4) - even the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy (5’7) - have all been lusted after online.
Of course, Nicole Kidman (5’10) walked so Zendaya could run, first marrying Tom Cruise (5’5) in 1990 and later Keith Urban (5’8) in 2006. Yet as recently as the 2020 Golden Globes, Urban caused a flurry of judgement when he posed next to Kidman in a pair of platform brogues to boost his height – this award season, no enhancing footwear was in sight.
Yet who could blame him if it had been? Historically, size has mattered. According to a study by the University of North Texas, 55 per cent of women would only date a taller man.
Swiping through Hinge, I’ve almost always disregarded anyone under six foot and assumed any man claiming to be 5’10 is probably more like 5’8. ‘The only hot men on Hinge are short,’ my friends routinely groan. ‘Do you fancy him or is he just tall,’ we quiz each other after successful dates. Over humour, generosity, or sometimes even kindness, height has tipped the scales. It’s like lankiness has lobotomised us all.
‘I met this guy at a party while he was sitting on a bench outside chatting,’ remembers 26-year-old Emily* who’s 5'9. ‘He was really funny and attractive and then he stood up and he was the same height as me. I just immediately thought “oh no” – five more inches and I would have been in love.’
But perhaps a change is overdue. In the UK, the average man’s height is 5’9. So, the likelihood of everyone dating someone over six foot is statistically impossible. And scientifically, (yes this has been studied) men shorter than 5’9 have more sex, according to research by The Journal of Sexual Medicine, are less likely to get divorced and are more likely to do their share of the housework, research by New York University has shown.
Academics aren’t certain why this is but posit tall men are more confident and consequently think domestic work is beneath them. Meanwhile, shorter men may feel they have something to prove and therefore work harder in the office and at home.
'Over humour, generosity, or sometimes even kindness, height has tipped the scales. It’s like lankiness has lobotomised us all'
‘I’m fcking tired of “short” used as an insult,’ wrote the comedian Jaboukie Young-White on Twitter when he coined the term short king in an impassioned speech in 2018. ‘“Short” gave you Donald Glover. “Short” gave you Tom Holland. “Short” gave you Daniel Kaluuya. “Short gave you Bruno fcking Mars,’ he emphasised. ‘Short kings are the enemy of body negativity, and I’ll be forever proud to defend them.’
Indeed, our desire to date tall men may be rooted in internalised misogyny. ‘It has its history in natural selection,’ sociologist and author of The Body Hoax, Emi Howe, tells Grazia. ‘‘But there’s also the question of body optics. Women are driven by many elements of society to be small, to shrink themselves…A woman no matter how tall or big can feel smaller relationally to taller, bigger men, which makes taller men more appealing.’ In this context, ‘[Short King Spring] is progress,’ she says of the trend’s challenge towards physical gender norms. ‘But it’s only one of a million acts of progress that would need to happen to reverse our internalised ideals about bodies.’
Still, if Short King Spring demonstrates anything, women are re-assessing their height prejudices when it comes to dating: ‘We’re put under so much pressure to look a certain way and I would never want someone to be that shallow in judging me,’ says Sophie* (5’7) who now almost exclusively dates shorter men thanks to better sexual and emotional experiences. ‘Even though men overall are under much less pressure to look a certain way than women, I think height is the sense where you do see that same double standard.
‘Some people like feeling that their boyfriend can protect them,’ she continues. ‘But I don’t like feeling I’m submissive or inferior in a relationship…That heteronormative model of the strong tall man and the small meek woman who follows them everywhere just doesn’t do it for people anymore.’
So, whether swiping through apps or scanning the crowd at a bar, perhaps we should stop swooning over 6ft and lower our sights (but never standards) - Long live the short king.
*Names have been changed