A news article reporting that Filipinos are the second shortest people in Southeast Asia goes viral. A larger-than-life billboard advertises a supplement promising to make children grow taller. Children fall in line in a village health center to have their height measured, while mothers wonder whether putting their children to sleep each afternoon is truly effective. A boy is teased by his grade school peers for being short; another boy states he doesn’t want to be tall because he’s interested in mathematics, not basketball. Young women at a beauty pageant struggle to promenade across the stage in their five-inch heels: “My life,” says a beauty queen, “would have been different if I were two inches shorter.”
These are just some of the images that reveal the importance of height in the Philippines, where the average is 5’4 for males and 5’2 for females. Attentive not just to the meanings of height but also its biological reality and materiality, my project looks at the different situations in young people's lives where height matters - from early childhood to young adulthood. What is at stake in one’s height? Why is it that, as a TV advertisement proclaims, “Being tall makes a big difference!”? In attending to these questions, I draw on ethnographic fieldwork in Puerto Princesa, a city on Palawan Island in the Western Philippines, as well as the social, cultural and political meanings of height in the Filipino colonial and postcolonial experience.