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With New Book, UT Grad Tears Down Myths About Short People

Whether you grow up in football-loving Texas or elsewhere, being short is not the hindrance to success, more money, or a greater selection of mates that society has made it out to be, a UT grad contends.

John Schwartz, BA ’79, JD ’84, a former Daily Texan editor who is now a New York Times reporter, is out with a new book breaking down those misconceptions.

Short: Walking Tall When You’re Not Tall at All is aimed at young adults and their parents. It hit bookstores last month, interspersing examples of successful short people (like Michael Bloomberg and Danny DeVito) with anecdotes from Schwartz’s own life (he stands 5-foot-3).

Along the way Schwartz sneaks in some legitimate science of his own — insight into statistics, distribution, random groupings, and the like. He wants kids to think critically about scientific studies.

After all, what about all those studies that supposedly show shorter people tend to be less intelligent or more socially excluded? Or that they’re at a disadvantage in landing jobs or making money? 

Schwartz says those are myths that were embraced by makers of the human growth hormone. He was disturbed when, in 2003, the FDA approved the use of the hormone for kids who were merely short. He wrote a contrarian essay for the Times, “The View From 5-Foot-3,” that got a huge response, and it became the germ for the book.

He took a look at the science and tried to break it down. What a study really says and the way a study is reported can be quite disparate, Schwartz says. Working in the news business, he knows how it goes — scientific findings are interpreted, simplified, and given a news hook.

Growing up in Galveston, Schwartz was conscious of his height — more so, he thinks, than he might have been had he grown up in a place where, say, wrestling was the most popular sport. Making matters worse, when he moved into Jester Center in 1975, the giants of the Longhorn football team were living there too.

But he met his future wife, Jeanne Mixon, BA ’81, outside Jester (and swiped her from another guy she’d been seeing). The two are around the same height, but Schwartz says he dated taller girls along the way.

“You’re surrounded by large people, and you learn to hold your own,” he says. Yes, there was teasing, but it actually built character. And he believes it forced him, as perhaps other shorter people, to develop more wit, verbal skills, and response to social cues.

The bottom line to Schwartz: Short stature is a personal difference, not a medical threat.

“We are a society in which parents think we must perfect our kids,” he says. “Not only do I think perfection is overrated, I also think it’s dangerous to demand it. I believe in ambition. But the idea that it’s a physical problem and we need to treat it — we can do better.”

Photo: Schwartz walks his daughter, Elizabeth Coleman, down the aisle at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in April. Elizabeth is around the same height as her father, 5-foot-3, but wears heels here.

 
 
 

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