Q: I’m a 6’2” woman. What’s the ideal way for me to respond when people (almost always men and total strangers) ask, out of the blue, “How does a woman your height find boyfriends?”—Annoyed
A: I’d opt for the macabre approach, delivered totally deadpan: “Actually, I stretch short men on a rack in my basement. You can sometimes hear the screams from the side yard.”
Responding with shocking humor—in an uber-cool tone—gives you the upper hand, in a way an enraged response to their rudeness would not. And yes, people who say this to you are rude—assuming you don’t go around wearing a sign that reads “Hey, strangers, ask me anything! Nothing’s too impolite or too personal!”
Of course, when people overstep (as maybe 6,055 other people have done previously), it’s natural to get angry—to go loud and ugly in calling them on their rudeness. However, that sort of directness—explicitly telling them that they’ve wronged you—is probably counterproductive. Social psychologist Elliot Aronson finds that people are highly prone to “self-justification”—the ego-defending denial that they’ve behaved badly.
Ultimately, using humor as I suggested—an over-the-top statement, delivered flatly—allows you to restructure the power balance, shifting yourself out of the victim position. You’re clearly informing the person they’ve crossed a line, with minimal aggression on your part. This is important because, as a tall girl, your energy is best put to more productive ends—folding yourself up like origami to fly in coach and fighting the Statue of Liberty for the extremely tall guys of Tinder.
Q: My style is basically grunge rocker girl: ancient jeans, vintage rock T-shirt, and bed-head. I need photos of myself, so late Saturday afternoon, I did a photo shoot with a professional stylist, makeup artist, and photographer. Long story short, I despise all the photos. They dressed me in “nice lady” clothes I hated and put too much makeup on me, including lipstick, which I never wear. I’m normally pretty assertive, so I don’t understand why I didn’t speak up for myself.—Irritated
A: When your style is grunge femme—bedhead and jeans that appear to be loaners from a wino—it’s a major bummer to pay for photos that make you look like you sell high-end real estate via bus bench ads.
It’s especially bummerific when you could have spoken up but instead just went along like a lap dog in a bee outfit. But the reality is, your ability to assert yourself—which comes out of a set of cognitive processes called “executive functions”—can get a little beaten down.
Executive functions are basically the COO (Cchief Ooperating Oofficer) of you—the cerebral department of getting stuff done, through, among other things, planning, prioritizing, holding sets of facts in mind, and making choices. And then there’s the executive function that crapped out on you: “inhibitory control,” which, as cognitive neuroscientist Adele Diamond explains, allows you to direct your “attention, behavior, thoughts, and/or emotions.” This, in turn, empowers you to do what you know you should—like eating your green beans instead of going with what your impulses are suggesting: face-planting in a plate of fries and soldiering on to do the same in a bowl of chocolate frosting.
So, what can you do to avoid repeating this experience? Try to schedule tiring, emotionally taxing projects earlier in the day. It also helps to figure out ahead of time where your boundaries lie—stylistic or otherwise. Then, when somebody does something you’re not comfortable with, you’ve pre-identified it as a no-no, which makes it easier for you to stand up for yourself—calmly and firmly. Remember, “every picture tells a story”—and it’s best if yours doesn’t seem to be about the time the lady at the Estee Lauder counter held you down, made you up, and then pulled out her Ruger and forced you into mom jeans.