The travails of a short-legged man

Why is there a special store for Big and Tall men, but not for Short and Chubby ones? Because in America, short guys are discriminated against. The popular sports are those played by giants. Ping-pong, badminton and limbo are never nationally televised. Tiny athletes, like jockeys, are seen as mutants, when in fact they’re not much smaller than I am.

I inherited my unusually short legs from my dad, who topped out at about 5-10 in the Marines in 1944 and steadily shrank to about 5-6 at the time of his death in 2000.

As he got older, his belly got bigger, and his already short legs got even shorter, as his growing gut pushed his belt steadily footward.

I have experienced this myself. When I was fit and trim a few years ago, the 30-inch legs fit me just right, but as I’ve gotten fatter, my waist has gotten steadily lower, and my pants are now two or three inches too long.

I’ve become a student of this phenomenon and have come to realize that I am not alone. In the grocery store I see dozens of us – men with pant legs bunched up around our ankles, or frayed from dragging on the floor and being stepped on. My guess is that a good 25 percent of American men have legs as short as mine – legs too short to be considered normal by Levi Strauss and Co.

At the malls in the Cities I see hundreds of tiny Asian men who have immigrated to our country over the last few decades. And what welcome did they receive? They were told by the fashion industry that they don’t even qualify as men.

Good luck finding a pair of 28-inch Levis, unless you shop in the boys’ department. Buying a pair of husky boys’ blue jeans is a trauma I would not want to inflict on any grown man.

“Uh, they’re for my … um … nephew. He’s about my size. That’s why I was trying them on in the … uh … boys’ dressing room.”

And in case you haven’t noticed, the corner tailor’s shop shut down in about 1951, and my guess is that your wife is not about to volunteer to hem up your pants. (If she does, they’ll still look funny, as I know from experience).

Here’s another sign of discrimination: I run one or two half marathons each year, and they’ve recently come out with Clydesdale and Athena classes. “Clydesdales” are guys over 200 pounds, and “Athenas” are women over 150. The new classes allow heavy people to compete against others of their body type, instead of being judged by the same standards as the young jocks and Kenyans.

I’m about 197, so I don’t qualify, even though I’m fatter and slower than a 200-pound, 6-foot 4-inch string bean with legs up to my nipples. Tall guys built like Jim Fixx can qualify for a special class of extra-large runners, but short guys like me, who actually are extra-large (as well as short-legged) and deserve some special credit for running 13 miles, are lumped in with everybody else.

Not one to take discrimination lying down, I’m launching two movements with this column:

First, I’m asking you to write letters to the Levi Strauss company demanding that they start making 24-, 26- and 28-inch inseams for men’s jeans.

Second, I’m asking that you write to the New York, Boston and Twin Cities marathons and the U.S. Olympic committee and threaten to boycott unless they start a special class for short, fat guys like me. We’ll call it the Shetland Ponies – guys under 5-10 who weigh more than 180.

While I’m at it, I think I’ll take it one step further: I demand a special designation for short, fat, white men with unusually stubby legs and toes that stick out at an unnatural angle – another handicap I inherited from Dad.

But that’s a topic for another column. I think I’ll call it “Shetland penguins unite!”

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