You’ve Got More to Give

“Tall Girl” reveals the tall impact our words have on the height of others.

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Betty Nguyen

The words in the image are from the first lyrics of the movie’s song “Stand Tall” by Voila ft. Ava Michelle. Digital Illustration by Betty Nguyen.

Betty Nguyen

Editor’s note: This article contains spoilers of the Netflix original film “Tall Girl” (2019).

Our words are powerful; they can either make someone’s day or break it. For one tall girl, the teasing words “How’s the weather up there?” shrink her in stature and confidence. 

“Tall Girl,” released on Sept. 13, details the life of Jodi (Ava Michelle), a teenage girl ostracized for her 6-foot, 1-inch height. Some of my favorite scenes included the “High School Musical”-esque piano duet between Jodi and her new crush, Sweden foreign exchange student Stig (Luke Eisner), and Jodi reconciling with her father (Steve Zahn) who tries too hard to make her feel “normal.” While some moments were laughable and unrealistic, I thoroughly enjoyed “Tall Girl” because at the end of the movie, I felt like I related to Jodi on a personal level, and I realized that I should not overlook those who really do care about me.

When I went to school and asked those around me what they thought of “Tall Girl,” I heard negative responses from practically everyone. Most of the negative responses were backlash to a line from the movie when Jodi yells that no one could possibly have it worse than her because she has to wear size 13 Men’s Nikes. People in real life and on the Internet were quick to point out that others do have it worse than her, a girl of Caucasian heritage and wealthy socioeconomic status. People were also quick to lash out at the film for its lack of diverse representation and lamented that the movie should have focused more on Jodi’s confident African-American best friend Farida (Anjelika Washington).

I get it. In the world of 2019, diversity, especially on a huge platform like Netflix, is widely valued. However, the movie was not about diversity or advocating for diversity. The main focus of “Tall Girl” is highlighting the lack of empathy people in society can have toward each other.

When I watched “Tall Girl,” I noticed an underlying similarity between the characters. Jodi, our protagonist, is insecure because she is bullied for her height. Dunkleman (Griffin Gluck), Jodi’s best guy friend, is in love with Jodi but is constantly rejected by her for his short stature. Handsome Stig, who stands at 6 feet 3 inches, is eager to become popular at his new school because he was bullied at his old high school in Sweden for not being “handsome or tall enough,” as he confides in Dunkleman. Even the popular mean girl, Kimmy (Clara Wilsey), reveals her insecurity and compares herself to Jodi. What all of these characters have in common is that they are hurt by the value placed on physical appearance.

In Jodi specifically, I see a girl who, whenever she looks in the mirror, sees her height as a flaw and ties her flaw to her entire self. I see myself in Jodi. 

While I am not as tall as Jodi, people in my Vietnamese culture have been quick to point out my flaws, whether it be my body size, facial imperfections or my height of 5 feet 5 inches, which is taller than the average Vietnamese female height of 5 feet 1 inch. I can not recall a time in my life where I did not feel imperfect because of the standards that were thrust at me. To have your beautifully unique features be turned into something that lessens your self-esteem is soul-crushing.

UPA mental health counselor Johnny Duran has also seen “Tall Girl,” viewing it through the lens of a therapist. Aware of the popular opinions toward “Tall Girl,” Duran said that the film could have shown a more complicated, in-depth representation of Jodi and her struggles. 

Duran, who also believes that all problems matter, connected with the wider issue of physical standards that “Tall Girl” tries to depict. 

“To be rejected makes a lot of people insecure because there’s always going to be someone that you compare yourself to, and so I feel like that affects a lot of students’ self-worth,” Duran said. 

Most of us can not fit size 13 Men’s Nikes. We can not completely put ourselves in each others’ shoes because we all have different (shoe) sizes of problems and different lives. But what we can do is use our words. 

Instead of asking “How’s the weather up there?” we can start by asking those around us, “How are you?” It might just give that one tall girl, or anyone really, the confidence to embrace the full height of their uniqueness.

“We’re all here,” Duran said. “We all contribute to this world in one way or another, and the actions that we do affect each other. You can do a lot by just putting in a little part of positivity with people.”