What ”The Bachelor” Taught Me About Heterosexual Height Discourse
It pays to be tall. Literally.
This year’s Bachelor was six feet, five inches tall.
More wall than man, Missouri-born Clayton Echard barely fit through a standard-sized door. I can see why his staggering height made him a good football player, earning him a brief spot on the Seahawks roster; the NFL prefers their players rectangle-shaped. But it also apparently made him hot, almost by default.
That’s not something I fully understood until I became part of The Bachelor fandom eight years ago.
As someone who lives on planet earth, I’m of course aware of the theory that taller men are innately more desirable. But as a queer woman, I didn’t really feel how deep height discourse really ran among straight people until ABC came along and made me care about it. Indeed, The Bachelor has long offered a voyeuristic portal into heterosexuality for LGBTQ+ outsiders like myself, and try as I might, I can’t help but peer through the glass.
Height, I have learned, is a frequent topic of conversation among the show’s predominantly straight viewers. Bachelor fans are often shocked to learn how tall the men on TV are in real life — the answer: very tall — and then end up debating on social media whether it’s wrong to favor the vertically blessed.
Those fights typically reach no resolution: A man’s height shouldn’t matter, some people say, because it’s completely arbitrary — a roll of the genetic dice. To which others respond that, given the impossible beauty ideal women are expected to embody, it’s OK to harbor a preference for tall guys … as a treat. It’s hard to argue with either position, which only makes the impasse more vexing. Seemingly no one who wades into this matter is happy — not the short guys, not the tall women, nor the average-height women competing for the elusive 6’2” men.
I do not envy people who have to care this much about verticality.
When I met my wife nine years ago, I fell in love with her laugh and her tortoise-shell glasses and the little gap between two of her teeth, but how high she was off the ground didn’t really do much for me. I don’t think I even knew her precise height — a few inches taller than the average for American women — until after we were engaged.
But I guess when your dating pool is half of the planet, you can afford to fixate on this stuff. It’s like online shopping: When there are only a few options, you can manually compare their features. When there are millions of choices, you’re probably going to tick off some filters first. (Meanwhile, it makes sense that those of us who can only look for love among 2% of the population would be less dimensionally obsessed.)
Not that I find it any less strange when my straight peers enforce a “must be this tall to ride” policy. Yes, some LGBTQ+ people have height preferences, and taller men are still a commodity among many queer people who are into dudes. (Grindr has a height filter.) And sure, I’m willing to admit that the viral image of a tall woman holding a short woman up against a wall is pretty hot.
But anecdotally, queer women who predominantly date women don’t really seem to care about this issue. It’s not like butches need to be tall. It matters so much more if you can top.
Maybe that’s why I was so — morbidly? — fascinated by Clayton’s stature. This is the second time in a row that Bachelor producers cast a male lead who is nearly too tall to ride some roller coasters without getting decapitated. (Matt James, the previous Bachelor, was also a dizzying 6’5”.)
Nor has there been a Bachelor under that all-important six-foot mark since Jake Pavelka — clocking in at a not-exactly-diminutive 5’10”— was cast in 2010, according to The Ringer’s thorough scientific investigation into the matter.
This obsession with casting extremely tall men compels me even more because it doesn’t always translate on the small screen. Fans of the show are often surprised to learn that even the guys who seem shorter — like Pilot Pete, who famously had sex with Hannah Brown in a windmill four times— are quite colossal. (Mr. Weber is 6’1”)
Not even Hollywood, with all its body fascism, requires men to be that tall. Movie star and amateur helicopter pilot Tom Cruise is a mere 5’7” and Jason Statham is the same height as Jake Pavelka.
I can only theorize that Bachelor producers are trying to induce some sort of gut-level reaction among the women who vie for the lead — because when you’re streaming Hulu on an iPad Mini, it’s hard to be impressed by anyone’s stature. And for better or for worse, the strategy seems to be working.
Nayte Olukoya (6’8”) handily won most recent season of The Bachelorette. And most notably, Thomas Jacobs (6’6”) was portrayed as a villain on Katie Thurston’s season of The Bachelorette but won the heart of former Bachelorette Becca Kufrin (5’7”) — one of the most respected people in the franchise — on Bachelor in Paradise and now boasts over a quarter-million Instagram followers.
In straight world, it seems, it pays to be tall — and in the Bachelor’s case, literally.