Netflix’s “Tall Girl” Falls Short in Tackling Height Discrimination

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Netflix’s “Tall Girl” Falls Short in Tackling Height Discrimination

Lauren Eusebio

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Pioneered by movies such as “The Kissing Booth” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” the coming-of-age genre has become greatly popularized within the collection of Netflix originals. Although some find joy in these easy-to-watch, feel-good romantic comedies, these movies have also received a great deal of criticism. 

The recently debuted “Tall Girl” is no exception to the trend of receiving backlash. With a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it definitely won’t be winning an Oscar anytime soon. What makes this Netflix original different from the rest, however, is that alongside the development of the romantic plot, the movie simultaneously attempts to tackle an allegedly “prevalent” social issue: being tall. 

The movie opens with the main character, a high school junior named Jodi, making eye contact with a boy in the school library. The two are initially seated across from each other at a table, so when Jodi finally stands up with all her six feet of height, she elicits an exaggerated reaction of shock from the boy: The words that were about to ask for her number die down in his throat, he eyes her up and down conspicuously, and he finally hurries out of the room, concluding the obnoxiously overstressed scenario.

The scene follows with a poignant montage of Jodi walking through the halls, getting stopped every couple of seconds by a plethora of people asking, “How’s the weather up there?” (Has literally anyone said this in the real world unironically?)

The beginning sequence of this movie closes with quite possibly one of the most painfully careless lines I’ve ever heard in a movie: “Oh, you think your life is hard? I’m a high school Junior wearing size 13 Nikes. Men’s size 13 Nikes.”

Yes, this is an actual thing a group of screenwriters had an upper-class white character say in a completely genuine fashion.We’re all sure people of color facing racial discrimination or LGBTQ+ members facing homophobia have it harder than you, Jodi.

This ultimately isn’t a competition to see which people face the most prejudice –– all types of discrimination are bad. My intention isn’t to devalue the potential gravity of this issue or deface those who feel discrimination towards their height, but to understand if this movie is accurately portraying the lives of tall people.

Many people have watched the events that inspired this movie. Actress and dancer Ava Cota –– who plays the main character, Jodi –– appeared on the popular television show “Dance Moms” as a child. We’ve witnessed her be lampooned on national television and kicked off the competition team because of her height, being told constantly that she didn’t fit in with the rest of the girls. In multiple interviews, Cota stresses how much of a hindrance her height has been on her self-confidence. Many do recognize that height discrimination is a perfectly valid issue, but exactly how prevalent of a social issue is it, and to what extent does this movie accurately portray it?

Primarily, Cota’s situation was unique; she was on a show specifically designed to humiliate young girls and pick at their every flaw for entertainment purposes. Having appeared on a popular show, she became a public figure on social media and, as a result, was an easy target for cyberbullying. This is also not a common thing, as not every tall person has hundreds of thousands of people viewing their photos (in reality, anyone with those numbers is likely going to have at least some fraction of hate).

It’s unlikely that every tall person goes through or has gone through the same struggles that Cota has, as being on a popular TV show and successively becoming a prominent public figure isn’t the norm. Thus, I don’t believe that Cota’s specific struggles that are translated into the role of Jodi are representative of an entire group of people.

Hills junior Nikhil Indugula, who like Ava Cota stands at six-foot-one, was questioned as to if he’s ever been bullied for his height. Indugula replied with, “Have people made a ton of comments? Yes. Have they ever been negative or hurtful? No. I’ve never felt bad about myself for how tall I am.” 

From this, we can deduct that “Tall Girl” does indeed dramatize height-based discrimination and portrays unrealistic scenarios. Indugula, however, suggested that the circumstances may be different for girls because it is more uncommon for them to be so tall. In relationships, for example, the guys are frequently taller than the girls because this is what a lot of girls desire. On the other hand, guys are less inclined to date taller girls because of the idea embedded into our minds that man should be the large, macho component of the relationship while the female should be the petite and dainty counterpart.

When asked the same question, our five-foot-nine classmate Elizabeth Masyukova had this to say: “I wouldn’t say I was bullied, but people would point [my height] out for no reason. Like, ‘Oh, you’re tall,’ but it was never bullying.”

Evidently, Indugula and Masyukova all had similar responses. Although their heights have been the subject of a couple random comments and have been brought up unnecessarily at times, they’ve never been subject to discrimination because of it. 

On the other hand, Hills junior Jared Mitovich poses another idea. He claims that “when [he] was short in middle school, people used to make fun of [him].” 

This is a concept that’s more easily understandable to me and can even be backed up by statistics. University of Florida professor Timothy A. Judge’s study “The Effect of Physical Height on Workplace Success and Income: Preliminary Test of a Theoretical Model”,  communicates that “height discrimination is most common against shorter than average men and is generally accepted and ignored.” Moreover, studies have shown that short people are paid less than tall people in the workforce. Even in business, surveys found that less than 3% of CEOs were below five-foot-seven in height, while 90% of CEOs are of above average height. Overall, heightism seems more prevalent on the opposite side of the spectrum.

Overall, while height discrimination is a perfectly plausible issue, its frequency and severity are heavily dramatized in this movie. Rather than sending the intended message of the importance of self-confidence, the movie instead devalues the already uncommon issue with exaggerated scenarios and campy tones. The creation of this movie was completely counterintuitive: What better way to raise awareness towards a topic than to make a joke out of it with poor writing and a lack of realism? In fact, it’s more likely to increase height discrimination, as people may begin referencing ludacris lines from the movie to tease their tall friends.

With such a talented cast and all the resources to create a great movie, “Tall Girl” missed the mark in portraying height discrimination. What is frustrating is that all the time and effort put into this movie could have been put into making a movie that accurately tackles a more relevant and important social issue such as racism, homophobia, xenophobia, discrimination based on economic stasis, abusive relationships, mental health, gun violence, drug and alcohol abuse, just to name a few. Instead of touching upon a more serious, urgent issue, this movie simply amplifies and exaggerates a problem that is not nearly as critical. 

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