The first rule of Tall Club: You must be tall.
For women, that’s 5 feet 10 inches or more. Men have to stand at least 6 feet 2 inches.
Second rule of Tall Club: That’s it. There are no more rules.
You might think the Tall Club would have a rule about not making jokes or poking fun at other people’s height. You would be wrong.
“Is your neck starting to hurt from looking up at us?” a Tall Club member asked a short reporter during the recent Tall Clubs International convention at Tuscany hotel.
Several other Tall Club members laughed; they know what it’s like for your height to be a focal point of attention. For once, the vertically challenged person was the oddball in this group.
And it’s that shared experience that brings these really tall people together. Members come from a variety of backgrounds but they all have one thing in common, says Cheryl Ausmann-Moreno, 50.
“We’re tall,” says the Portland, Ore., resident, who stands 5 feet 11 inches. She joined her local Tall Club in 2007 because she wanted to meet other tall people.
Dozens of club members came from across the country last month to socialize in Las Vegas and conduct business related to their various Tall Club chapters. Members went to shows, where they had no problem seeing over others in the audience. They ate out, hung out and shared their lives and experiences as taller-than-average people. By the way, average height in the U.S. is 5 feet 4 inches for women and almost 5 feet 10 inches for men.
They also held their annual Miss Tall International pageant. Seven women competed for the crown and the chance to be the ambassador for tall people, everywhere. Chicago resident Valerie Ahrens, 47, won.
At 5 feet 10 inches tall, she’s what is known as a “squeaker,” a person who is just tall enough to qualify for membership in the exclusive club.
“I’m one of the shorter people in the club,” she says. “That never happens to me.”
Ahrens has long blond hair, an infectious smile and a bubbly demeanor. It’s difficult to imagine that she had self-esteem issues. But for years, she held back because of her height. When she dated men who were a bit shorter, she made sure to forgo high heels. She just wasn’t comfortable in her own skin, but being in the Tall Club has helped her come out of her shell.
“It really has built up my self-confidence,” Ahrens says.
Tall Clubs International’s roots can be traced back to 1938, when a tall artist named Kae Sumner wrote a story about her height for the Los Angeles Times newspaper. She was 6 feet 3 inches tall. In the story, she described the issues her height had presented in her life and invited other tall people to contact her. Eight people reached out and together they formed the California Tip Toppers Club.
According to the Tall Clubs International website, the Tip Toppers lobbied businesses to develop furnishings that fit their tall frames.
Interest in the club grew. It eventually incorporated and adopted the name Tall Clubs International.
There are 50 member clubs across the U.S. and Canada with about 1,300 members. The Las Vegas chapter has 70 members in its Meet-Up group and 250 friends on its Facebook page, says John Morath, chapter president.
The Tall Clubs International mission is “to promote tall awareness among tall men and women, and in the community.”
So what does that mean, exactly?
Tall people have disadvantages. Yes, they can reach the kitchen cabinets without using a stepladder. Yes, research has found that tall people earn more money than short people. Research has also found that they are perceived as being better leaders, more desirable mates and more persuasive than those of average height. Still, being tall isn’t easy, tall people say.
“As much as average-height people think being tall is cool, they don’t understand the downside,” says Donna Stocker, who stands 6 feet 1 inch tall. The 49-year-old makeup artist and instructor is a founding member of her local Tall Club in Vancouver, British Columbia. It boasts about 500 members.
Tall people, Stocker and other members say, are often the butt of jokes. The most commonly asked question is, “How’s the weather up there?” For the record, it’s the same as it is down there.
“You learn to be an open book” because people will ask anything, says Loretta Felvus, 43.
It’s not uncommon for strangers to ask her shoe size; it’s 13, which is hard to find in retail stores. Oh, and she’s 6 feet 2 inches tall. No, she has never played basketball. Yes, she knows she’s tall, thanks for telling her, repeatedly.
The New Yorker joined her local chapter a year ago after hearing about it at a Marfan syndrome convention. Tall Clubs International members regularly raise money for the Marfan Foundation, as many members have the disorder. Marfan is a congenital disorder of the connective tissue and can cause above-average height and elongated limbs. It can affect vital organs, as well.
The club has been a great social outlet, she says, and they do good work in the community. She likes that when she’s around other members, she can look them in the eye. She no longer stands out because she’s tall.
“I was always known for being tall,” Stocker says. “Now I’m not. No matter what, you could always fall back on being tall. Now, in the Tall Club, you have to come out with your personality.”
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4564. Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.