At 5’7″, Alex considered himself short.
The 26-year-old, who asked that his real name not be used to maintain his privacy, said he was fed up with the insults and derisive comments about his height.
Shorter men “are routinely called down just for this trait that they can’t control,” Alex said.
So, this past January, he underwent leg-lengthening surgery to increase his height to 5’10».
“My goal was never to be tall. It’s being in a place where no one comments on my height,» Alex said.
Leg lengthening is an intense and expensive process, but it has become more popular and accepted in the last five years, according to Dr. Shahab Mahboubian, a surgeon at the Height Elongation Institute in Burbank, California, who performed Alex’s surgeries. .
“I even have men in their 60s, 65s who have come to me for the procedure because it just won’t stop. The ‘short’ jokes go on and feel inferior,” he said.
The $75,000, four-hour surgery, which is generally not covered by insurance, involves cutting the thigh bones in each leg and inserting a rod into them. Then, for the next three to four months, the rods are lengthened by up to 1 millimeter (0.04 in) per day, via an external remote control. New bone grows over the rods.
Physical Therapy Required: For four months after surgery, Alex was going four to five times a week and using a walker. When he regained his mobility, he switched to using a cane.
The final step in the process is to remove the rods. Alex returned for that hour-long procedure a year after the first surgery, and his insurance footed the $10,000 bill. In total, Alex estimated that the entire process cost him around $100,000.
He said he initially dismissed the idea of lengthening his legs as «crazy» but later decided it would make him happier in his body.
«If it’s all pain and money, that’s fine,» he said.
Mahboubian said he expects to perform 50 height-lengthening surgeries this year, more than double the 20 he did three years ago.
Traditionally, leg extension surgeries are reconstructive procedures to correct leg length discrepancies, according to Dr. S. Robert Rozbruch, chief of the complex reconstruction and limb lengthening service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
He said only a small portion of the surgeries he performs are aimed at increasing a patient’s height, and those cases typically involve short stature dysphoria, a deep dissatisfaction with one’s height.
Rozbruch said he wouldn’t want leg lengthening to be seen as a quick surgery performed for cosmetic reasons.
Alex said he was so upset about his height before the surgery that he would sometimes walk around his neighborhood and cry.
“I went to therapy about this to talk about body image issues, but then I’m always told, ‘Oh, do you have body dysmorphia?’” she said. «It’s almost the opposite, where I’m painfully aware of what the reality of my body is and I wanted to change it.»
In popular culture, Alex added, short men can end up being the joke of all jokes.
«Body shaming is wrong, but there’s a little ‘unless you’re short’ asterisk,» he said. «It seems about the only immutable trait that is accepted as a social punching bag.»
Even references to «short kings,» a modern dating term for short men who are confident and attractive but might otherwise go unnoticed because of their height, come off as mocking and ambiguous, Alex said.
Dr. David Frederick, an associate professor of psychology at Chapman University in Southern California, studies satisfaction with body image. In a 2006 studyfound that while only 26% of shorter men were satisfied with their height, 87% of taller men were happy with their height.
«When it’s such an intense and persistent feeling that it affects your daily functioning in daily life, it becomes a problem,» he said.
TO study published last year examined the relationship between height and dating preferences among heterosexual people in the US, Canada, Cuba, and Norway. The results suggested that men preferred shorter women and that women preferred taller men relative to their own heights and the averages for their countries.
Some research also suggests there are financial benefits to being tall. A 6-foot person was predicted to earn $166,000 more than a 5’5″ person over a 30-year career, according to a 2004 study found.
Writer Malcolm Gladwell surveyed half of the Fortune 500 companies about the height of their CEOs in 2005 and found that 58% were taller than 6 feet, even though only 14% of American men are that tall. .
A combination of factors likely explains the CEO trend, Frederick said: Taller height is sometimes associated with dominance, but it’s also indicative that someone grew up with «more resources and wealth.»
Although leg-lengthening surgery carries risks, such as nerve damage and loss of range of motion, the procedure is safe as long as it’s performed by experienced surgeons, according to Rozbruch.
Two months have passed since Alex’s second surgery and he says he no longer cares about his height.
“The recovery is behind me and I feel amazing,” he said.
But Alex added that he is wary of recommending the surgery to others, as that would imply that shorter men would have to change. Instead, he said, social pressures to be taller are the problem.
“No one should feel the need to do this,” he said.