The idea that height defines a man’s value is a painful and stupid part of a very backward notion of masculinity. It is, however, the exact notion of masculinity that Donald Trump buys into and performs. Which is why I believe he’s been lying about his height since he was young. That may seem unlikely, but in fact, it’s not only plausible, it’s the only way of explaining the known facts.
A lot of men lie about their height. Height is so tied into our ideas of success that it correlates directly to higher pay. Just as women have immense social pressure to lie about their age so as to maintain their perceived source of value, men have huge incentives to add a couple inches when asked. If I knew absolutely nothing about Donald Trump except that he’s a rich guy who’s very concerned with his image, I’d assume he lies about his height just based on that. (Even Trump’s most ardent defenders must acknowledge that a man his age who uses Propecia and spray-tan is concerned with his image.)
Therefore, Trump’s height as officially given, 6’3″, can be dismissed out of hand. If nothing else, he claimed 6’2″ for years until he entered the 2016 Republican primary, where both Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum were claiming 6’3″ —at which point Trump suddenly grew an inch. His word cannot be taken on this.
How, then, can I confidently state that Donald Trump is almost definitely 5’9″? Because we do have one objectively accurate measure of his body: the bronze cast of his hand at Madame Tussaud’s, which is 7.25″ long. And as tailors have known for centuries, certain bodily proportions are very consistent, within a narrow range. Donald Trump’s hands are not disproportionately small, as they appear to be. They’re within the normal range for a man of his height, which is 5’9″.
The U.S. Census from 2010 has a useful chart indicating that even at 6’2″ in 2016, Trump would be in the 97th percentile for a man his age. That tallies with the meticulous ergonomic data from North Carolina State University, which says that 6’2″ would put him in the 97th percentile, and 6’3″ would put him in the 99th. However, the NCSU data also says that a 7.25″ hand length is the 15th percentile for men, meaning 85% of men have longer hands.
While there is some variance in human proportions, there simply isn’t that much. No one is in the 15th percentile on one skeletal measurement and the 99th on another. How much variance exists in the hand-length-to-height ratio is the right question to ask, and one that has been studied by Drs. Pradeep K. Pawar and Abhilasha Dadich. Their work gives us hard numbers on the relevant variance, and lets us do some direct math.
Per the Pawar-Dadhich research, the mean height-to-hand ratio for men over 30 is 9.12:1. That would make Trump a bit over 5’6″ (which the NCSU data pegs as the 15th percentile for men). However, there is a measured variance in that ratio of ±.44, so let’s give Trump the maximum allowance and say the ratio is 9.56:1. That would make him 5’9.3″ (176 cm), almost exactly average for an American man.
So what we have here is a man of average height, but who has long been obsessed with being the biggest, the best, the most impressive, and who does not feel constrained by objective fact. So he buys shoes with lifts, or gets lift inserts for them. There are a lot of companies that make those; it’s a popular product. Three-inch lifts would make him 6’0″, which would fit with the height he appears to be in photographs. Four-inch lifts might bump him to 6’1″ for particularly tall occasions. Then he just exaggerates an inch or two, as many men do, and we have his official height.
This would explain another odd thing about Trump: many commentators have observed that his suits don’t seem to fit him. This makes perfect sense if he’s a 5’9″ man on lifts, but buying suits cut for a 6’2″ man. They’re trying to fit onto a different skeleton than his. He also famously buys/endorses off-the-rack Brioni suits, which would underscore this problem. A 46L on a 5’9″ man is going to look ill-fit, no matter how much his shoes are trying to help. It may also be significant that while he loudly endorses his suits, he seems to be fairly quiet about where he gets his shoes. At least, I haven’t found anything he’s said on the subject; other researchers may have more information.
A couple objections might be raised to this math, so I’d like to address them. The first is that our single accurate measurement is taken from a bronze cast, and there is usually shrinkage involved in casting. That is true. It’s possible that Madame Tussaud’s, with their centuries-long reputation, compensates for such shrinkage so as to produce perfectly accurate casts, but let’s assume they do not. Bronze shrinkage during cooling runs about 1-2%, a figure that is backed up by sculptors. So, to be generous, let’s call it 2% shrinkage, which would mean Trump’s hand is 7.395 inches long. We’ll round that up to 7.4 because again, we’re being generous. At a 9.12:1 ratio, and rounding up again, that would make Trump 5’7.5″. Allowing him again that maximized 9.56:1 ratio, we get 5’10.7″, an inch or so above the national average, but still visibly below any height he has ever publicly claimed. Bronze shrinkage is not what’s going on here.
People who actually read cited sources (thanks!) might object that the Pawar-Dadhich research was conducted in Mumbai, and a white guy from Queens might have totally different proportions. This is an understandable objection, but baseless. Firstly, the data we have shows that American skeletal proportions, if not measurements, are identical to those from Mumbai to multiple decimal places. Secondly, if Trump’s claimed height is true, he would have a height-to-hand ratio of 10.3:1. Anyone claiming that’s a normal ratio in Queens should start by finding a single person who has it. Existing data suggests no such person exists, but hey, good luck.
So, based on the data we have, Donald Trump is almost definitely 5’9″, give or take a small amount. If you’ve read this far, I want you to take a minute to ask yourself why you feel the way you do about that fact. Most likely, you either feel a gloating sense of triumph that that preening windbag has literally been cut down to size, or you feel moral outrage that some liberal fanatic is making up hateful lies about Trump based on nothing more than hard data. But why? Why is it viscerally obvious to you that pointing out his real height is an attack on him? Because it proves he’s been lying for decades? It does, but we knew that already. The fact that he lies about himself and the world is not, at this point, news to even his biggest fans.
You perceive this fact as an attack because, to some degree, you buy into the idea that height equates to masculine value. Pointing out that he is of average height feels on an emotional level like pointing out that he is a failure, a cheater, or a criminal. This is, obviously, ridiculous on the face of it. Height has nothing whatsoever to do with a man’s character, human worth, or contribution to the world. 5’9″ Donald Trump has the exact same qualities, positive or negative, as 6’2″ Donald Trump. But we don’t believe that. He doesn’t believe that, clearly, or he wouldn’t have been lying and wearing uncomfortable shoes for decades. If we believed that, male actors wouldn’t stand on apple boxes to kiss their leading ladies. There wouldn’t be hundreds of companies selling shoe lifts in the first place. All those millions of men wouldn’t go through life feeling inadequate and worthless because of an irrelevant factor they have no control over.
Look again at those skeleton diagrams. At a quick glance, they’re basically identical. We’re talking here about a difference of less than 10%, a few inches. And yet that’s enough to judge someone on, to lose a guy a promotion, to stoke lifelong insecurities, and yes, it’s enough for a man to lie about. To spend decades lying about. Trump is very, very far from being the only one.
I don’t know how to decouple height from masculine worth in our society. I imagine something like the fat acceptance movement, only without even the “you should just lose weight” and “we’re just concerned about your health” excuses they have to deal with, since height is neither controllable nor health-linked. And yet, because it is so utterly irrational, I fear it might be even more intransigent a prejudice. It might, however, be a good start for the 45th president to step down off his lifts, stand before us barefoot, and tell us the truth, not only that he’s been lying, but the truth about why he felt he had to. It would be the most personally courageous act by a U.S. president in living memory, a truly inspirational moment. Only his actions when confronted with these facts will tell us whether Donald Trump is capable of that kind of courage.
Photo: Getty Images