On the first page of her memoir, Ellen Frankel takes us to the moment at an arts festival when her eyes meet another "member of the club": someone whose eyes are on a level with hers, someone who "knows" what it's like to be always looking up at others. Frankel, at four feet eight inches, is one of the shortest in any crowd. This book is the story of her journey to overcome the heartache caused by our culture literally and emotionally "looking down on" short people.
Frankel has appeared on CNN, Fox News and in the Associated Press, speaking about her mission to expose size discrimination: the unequal treatment of people because of their height or weight. She is particularly passionate about government approval of hormone shots for healthy children, just because they fall below the curve of what is "normal" height for their age.
The book cites numerous articles and studies on the ways people try to "fit in" by altering their body image. Besides the emotional damage done to short children through unthinking jokes and pats on the head, there is the health risk of synthetic hormone injections which increase height by only an inch or two at most.
Interspersed with the scientific data is the personal. As a girl, Frankel thinks about being a rabbi, but her rabbi laughs at her, saying she is too short and would never reach the pulpit. She is drawn to study Buddhism and integrates that philosophy with her Jewish identity in a graceful manner.
Her sense of humor and self-acceptance are evident in the title of chapter eight: Life is Short and So Am I. She tries to be a bubbly, cute (and short) female but does not feel her own power until she sheds that persona.
"I knew my Achilles heel and how it craved a stiletto," says Frankel. She fells into relationships with tall, important men to feel seen, "special" and powerful. But she knows deep inside that only by speaking her truth and engaging in activities that nourish her will she grow strong.
The journey that is central to the book begins when Frankel and her husband watch the Everest IMAX movie. At first, her husband is reluctant to leave his job for two weeks and go to Nepal, but she convinces him there is never a better time than now. They visit Kathmandu and the Himalayas, Buddhist shrines and death-defying roads alongside cliffs.
Frankel's vivid descriptions of the people and the villages of Nepal are my favorite part of the book. A year later, she returns, this time to climb Everest with a group of fifteen people.
She takes us along as she listens to the soundtrack CD from the Everest film while climbing to a Buddhist monastery at 13,000 feet up the highest peak in the world.
On this return trip, she travels with a married woman who is having an affair and also has an eating disorder. Overly focused on her thinness, the woman uses laxatives frequently to combat "bloating." During the trek, she confides that she is sleeping with their married Sherpa guide.
Frankel spent ten years as a counselor in practice for eating disorders, treating "Women who fought with their bodies because the culture told them their bodies were their enemies—unless their bodies were tall and thin, then they were their best friends."
"You don't have to have an affair with someone who climbed Mount Everest", she tells her traveling companion. "...you can climb yourself. You don't have to live vicariously, offering your body to a man living out your own dreams."
Frankel knows these words are meant for her, too. "I grew into myself" on the trek, she tells us. She realizes she can be strong and confident while short, that these qualities are not determined by one's physical size, because, "We are all both dwarfed by Everest and beyond measure."
This book reminded me of why it's so much more fulfilling to follow our hearts and go after our dreams. I've known too many women who "could have" been and done things but let their fears and other people's expectations discourage them.
Frankel's children have learned by her example to be who they are without reservation. Her book can teach us all to do the same.
Ellen Frankel, LCSW, has worked in the field of eating disorders since 1987 and is the co-author of Beyond a Shadow of a Diet: The Therapist's Guide to Treating Compulsive Eating and The Diet Survivor's Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance, and Self-Care. A full-time writer, she speaks at conferences and serves as a consultant.
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