With four children and a fifth on the way, I have had to deal with a strange phenomenon a fair few times these past seven years. At some point in pregnancy, the back changes shape, and I lose about an inch in height for a few months. When I was a child, I was afraid of growing older when I aged. One of my relatives made a passing remark once that people shrink when they get old. This fear manifested in late childhood when my cousins and I sprouted right past our 5’2” aunties. Oh no! I thought. My tall aunts have all shrunk already (you know, in their late 20s). Even though I knew better, the old silly idea popped back up again when we converted to Greek Orthodoxy and I again found myself towering over my beloved elders.
This time, though, I noticed my latent fear of shrinking when I went to the grocery store. Any trip around the Super Target will tell you in no uncertain terms that some foods are made for shorter people and some for the tall. The same goes for lightbulbs. Short people like incandescents, tall people favor LEDs. It’s science.
Toilet paper is equal opportunity, but fizzy water favors the vertically endowed. If you want good champagne, go someplace with a wine attendant or resign yourself to plain old sparkling wine. Silverware is not for the short, but the vertically challenged can eat off plastic forks, no problem. Premium crackers are at or below waist height, but premium cheese might require very long arms. Almond butter and fancy jellies belong to the tall, but just about anyone can have basic pb&j. Don’t even get me started on the vagaries of organic soups.
Maybe you’ve never thought about shrinking. Maybe you weren’t an 80s kid convinced that poor Lily Tomlin’s fate in The Incredible Shrinking Woman was a real possibility. But take a few moments on your next grocery run to find out what your local stores think tall people should eat or drink. Why do you suppose that is? Is it the psychological boost to buying “top shelf” products? Ethnic stereotyping? Mistrust of children?
When you’re writing, small details have to carry meaning about character or life station. Noticing what a person has to go through to acquire their preferred foods and beverages can add authenticity and depth to your narrative. A short lady climbing on a step stool to get to the imported fizzy water tells you something about her character. Why didn’t she ask for help? Did she go to the step stool department to bring a step back for the purpose? Swipe it from store staff? What does that fancy water mean to her?
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, think about the ways our public spaces treat people’s physical realities when you write. Then come back here and tell me if this advice helped!
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