The Napoleon Complex

By Suhani Suneja, Blog Staff

When people meet me, often their first (and only) observation about me is my height. About 5 seconds after this initial meeting, people will begin throwing out guesses for my height, saying “Hmm.. Let me guess 5’ 1”? 5’ 2?”

Art by Camden Treiber, Art Staff.

I’m used to seeing eyes then bulge in surprise as I say: “Nope, actually 4’11”. Well technically, 4’10.5”, but I round up for my ego.” Yes. you read that correctly. 4. 

My mother stands about an inch shorter than me, and my father is 5’5”, so no one gasped when this is where my height landed. Most people have a fun story of their middle school or high school growth spurt during puberty. While I did struggle through the full awkwardness of puberty, my growth spurt was limited to growing a whole 2.5 inches instead of 2 inches in the 6th grade. Then never again. So yes, that does mean I have supervised and babysitted middle schoolers taller than me. 

I’m used to navigating a world not built for my body: I struggle to reach the lowest shelf in my kitchen and crack a joke as I attempt to not spill coffee beans everywhere as I grab them. I giggle every time I jump to grab something, hearing others laughing behind me. Several times during my freshman year, I would walk around in the busy South Quad dining hall trying to get fries, and almost bump right into someone. I would end up facing their belly button, and have to tilt my head upwards to look, as if I were a squirrel trying to look at a skyscraper. 

I see my height mostly as a punchline rather than a real setback, but I can’t help feeling upset when it’s used against me. Just as I face micro-aggressions related to my race, I similarly face (fewer) small issues related to my body. In group discussions, I often feel as though I’m not taken as seriously as a young adult with real serious opinions and a mature worldview; instead I feel infantilized and seen as an itty bitty child talking at the grown ups table – as if my height had any alterations on my ability to plan logistics of an event or solve a calculus problem. Do you remember the little height postings every time you go to a roller coaster park with red showing that you’re too short for a ride, and green saying that you’re tall enough to proceed? Sometimes I think people genuinely have those red-green scales subconsciously stuck in their heads, and I feel pity that they just can’t see past it, like me in a lecture hall trying to see over someone’s hair. Irony of all ironies. 

Men often try to express their own power and fragility by towering over me. It used to deeply bother me, and make me feel unsafe. What did they want just standing right above me looking down? But then I learned a cool magic trick: I somehow slip into conversation the fact that I’m a third degree black belt. Like smashed 10 bricks in 2 minutes black belt, training for 11 years black belt. I simply watch as all the color drains from their faces, like a tomato turning a ghastly pale white. They walk away soon enough, and I’m left by myself to chuckle at the fact that they really felt joy talking to a girl for 2 minutes they thought was so far beneath them, but felt threatened to their very core upon learning that she was perhaps stronger than them. 

In popular culture, the Napoleon Complex refers to the tendency of short individuals, mostly short men, to overcompensate for their height –  referring to Napoleon attempting to invade most of Europe to compensate for his stature. I will fully admit that I have a Napoleon Complex; I own the fact that I argue and bicker often, speak in completely dramatic sentences, and act competitive about silly little games. I’m not sure at which point the Napoleon Complex began filtering into the development of my personality, but all I can say is that they’re both here to stay. Maybe that’s for the best: at some point I stopped seeing my height as a flaw and instead saw it as my own secret weapon against the world, a disguise armed with a Napoleon Complex able to take down anyone. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s