I am a six-foot blonde, which isn’t quite the ace in the hole that people think it is. Mostly, it just spikes the attention of people I’d least like to interact with.
These folks generally fall into three categories:
-Men over 70 who don’t believe in deodorant.
-Mentally unstable panhandlers.
I am their muse.
Most of them feel obligated to give me unsolicited nicknames—and some of those nicknames stick—which is how I became Talltown one sunny afternoon in 2002.
I was standing on a patio, waiting for a table at a restaurant, when I saw him a block away: A man who looked like he had just woken up in a ditch after a two-week bender, eyes wild, but suddenly hopeful. He was pointing his finger at me and barreling in my direction. When he arrived at the patio, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and said, “Hey! Talltown! Want a Marlboro Red?”
I declined, and at that moment, my previous nickname of Big Sexy was replaced with Talltown.
Big Sexy was a nickname given to me by another would-be suitor. I was out with my friends when a man walked up to me and said, “You know, when I was in prison, there was a guard there that was really tall like you, but she was fatter. You know what we called her?”
I stood voiceless.
“Big Sexy. So that’s what I’m gonna call you allllll night.”
And so Big Sexy overturned my previous nickname of Big D.
You see how this works…
My height has been my most defining feature my entire life - and it had a rocky start. I was so tall when I was four years old that my parents put me in school a year early, fearing that I would look like an older child who had failed a grade.
And I did look older than I was, and people expected me to act older. My parents did their best to keep people in check. A “She’s old enough that she should know better!” was usually met with a, “No she shouldn’t. She’s six.”
In elementary school, my friend’s mom drove a group of us to an amusement park for kids in Kansas City, and there was a height limit. I was too tall to go on most of the rides.
Then there was the unfortunate circumstance of being six feet tall and thirteen years old in southern Kansas, where we didn’t have a prayer of finding clothes to fit me without long drives to Kansas City or Tulsa, or phoning in orders to the Spiegel catalog, which sold clothes in tall sizes for women. Unfortunately, at thirteen, dressing like a forty-year-old secretary did not present me as my best self.
For most kids, standing out without choosing to stand out does a real number on you. I was insanely jealous of kids who chose to come to school with pink hair, tattoos, or piercings. They had the option - and the choice to different. I, on the other hand, was simply stuck in a hellscape of unjust genetic positioning.
It turns out my ace in the hole was not my height. The key to my survival was, and still is, the gift of an amazing posse.
I grew up with a group of kids who had my back—which isn’t how things normally work out for the tall, awkward girl. The key for me was getting into the right group by age five. By the time I looked completely ridiculous, they were already locked in. Kids who dared to make fun of my high-water pants or call me Big Bird were met with a swift social backlash.
This protection gave me the luxury of confidence and the ability to find the humor in my situation—which is how I can embrace Talltown as the magnificent nickname that it is.
So, when you see a tall girl standing a head above everyone else with sleeves that don’t quite reach her wrists, wearing jeans that may or may not be capris—give her a shot. My guess is, not a lot of people have, and she could certainly use some help with the number of weirdos approaching her on the street.
In defense of a consistently mispronounced name.
I have one of those names that gives immediate pause. Is it Day-na? Dann-ah? Donna? Diana?
I answer to all of them.
The easiest way I’ve found to cue people to (what my parents tell me is) the correct pronunciation of my name, is the same thing I’ve been using since before I can remember: It’s Dana. Like, Dana-Banana.
Think that’s rough? You can talk to my sister Carie, with one R.
My father had a vendetta against consonants. He defended the spelling of our names by telling us that our last name was so long, he didn’t want us to have the hassle of extra, unneeded letters. For me, it just begs the question as to why my middle name is Kathleen. If we’re worried about extra letters, how about something simple like Ann or Sue to bring down that letter count?
As a child, my parents were adamant that I correct people who mispronounced my name, leaving me to the popular rhyme that served me well until a three-year stint in England, where “Dana-Banana” sounds more like “Donna-Bonnona.” That one’s on me.
Is it worth the hassle to correct everyone? Nope. It’s not. I make a case for my name with new friends, coworkers, clients, and neighbors—but I’ll let that barista call me Diana, and not lose any sleep over it.
People have asked me why I don’t change the spelling to Danna or Dannah—but I can’t imagine what Dad would think of all those extra letters, and I like being in a unique club with all of the Kirstys and Meegans out there.
Having a difficult name taught me to speak up for myself at young age. It was the one and only time I was ever allowed to correct adults and my first, little taste of power—confidently being in the right and taking ownership of myself.
In all, not a bad thing to bestow on a kid.
So to all of the Danas, Meegans, Kirstys, Leahs, and Carolyns out there—keep on keepin’ on.
We got this.