I don’t recall exactly how it came up. I think I might have been making a point about how particularly dangerous Facebook’s choices seemed during the protests and riots happening all around in late May 2020. While parts of the Twin Cities were literally burning, I read a Twitter thread about a tense all-staff where folks were trying to hold Zuck’s feet to the proverbial fire a bit. Marek looked up from our sushi and said, “You know, he’s super short.”
I didn’t know. I always assumed he was a tall rail-thin type.
“Yeah, I guess they gave him a cushion to sit on during congressional hearings so he would appear taller,” Marek added.
I picked up my phone to google it. “Don’t trust the results,” he warned, “I’m sure it will say he’s taller than he actually is.”
Google said 5’7”. But a little bit further down was a picture of Zuck next to Dimitri Medvedev, and they looked to be basically exactly the same height. Medvedev is listed at 5’4”. And Zuck’s shoes looked like they were adding a little bit.
So probably looking at seat cushions, shoe lifts, a bit of rounding up for the internet results – it all struck me as really interesting and deeply weird.
Maybe you’re familiar with some of the research on height and professional success. Studies have shown that controlling for gender and race, taller people out earn their shorter colleagues by over $100,000 over a 30-year career. Fashion modeling is a tall person’s job, but really sales of almost any kind favors the tall. One of the studies I looked at extrapolates some evolutionary preference for height relative to survival fitness, but no matter where you imagine it comes from, the effect seems genuine. Height is frequently linked to career success.
So here’s Zuck, wildly successful by almost any measure you want to choose - entrepreneurial, financial, personal, philanthropic – still worried about public perception based on height. Why? It’s not like being short is immoral. And anyone who makes fun of Zuck for his height? That’s a worse look for the commenter than it is for Zuck.
How much more powerful would it be for Zuckerberg to just own his stature. List his real height on the internet and dare anyone to give him shit. Sit in front of congress with no illusions, confident that his words will be heard not because he looks the part but because of his entrepreneurial track record. Zuck could decide to just confidently be exactly how he is and tell everyone who cares about his height to suck it.
The irony here is that the very business Zuck is in in antithetical to celebrating these kinds of differences. Numerous studies have demonstrated that viewing pictures of attractive celebrities and peers on Instagram and other social platforms has a negative effect on women’s emotional lives and their body image. Clearly, even Zuck is not immune to these effects.
So what is the exit strategy? How do we keep the meaningful connections, relationships we cherish, and inspiration we seek while not giving in to the social pressure and self-criticism that is frequently a side-effect of participation on these platforms?
The trick, I believe, is to know what you value and to be just exactly who you are, as completely and confidently as you can. Whatever is for you what height is for Zuck – own it. Love it. Dare other people to say something (hint, they won’t). Beyond this know who you are in the world – what you value, what you do best. Put your focus and energy there.
We are social creatures, and so to a large extent, being caught up in what society values is part of how we survive. But social values are a two-way street. We don’t just receive social values, we collectively create them. The antidote to judging ourselves based on these values is to be part of the process of collective growth.