Working through the Fast Lane Romance series, I learned that some women consider “panties” an offensive word for underwear. More recently, I was told that “short” is an offensive word for…well, not tall.

I read the following passage from Malibu Bride to my writers group:

But as much as Holt admired Sushma’s business acumen and drive, he also found her physical attributes appealing. Short? Check. Pretty face? Check. Killer figure? Check..and mate.

One woman told me I should have Holt, the hero, say that Sushma, the heroine, is “petite” or “tiny.” My response was that Holt is a man; he’s no more likely to describe a woman as “tiny” or “petite” than he is to describe pink as “magenta.” And there’s no way he’d call pink “magenta.”

Plus, I said, Holt’s thinking, not talking.

The group member was adamant. To her, “short” equals “unattractive.” Which is unfortunate and enlightening, since she’s…how you say…petite.

I asked female members of another writers group what they thought, and got responses like:

I don’t have the same reaction to “short.” I agree that petite and tiny don’t sound like “guy words” to me. “Little” could work maybe.

I think of myself as short—well actually I forget I’m short until someone reminds me—but I don’t equate it with “ugly.”

“Short” is blunt and isn’t very flattering. You could say “petite and curvy.”

“My mom and my sister-in-law are both short and they use the word to describe themselves.”

How about pocket-sized?

“Short” bad…”pocket-sized” good? Right.

Another response was, “Switch it around. Have him like that she’s not some tall gangly thing.”

So it’s okay to insult tall women?

And then there was, “A guy would NOT use the word “petite.” He would just think ‘short,’” and “Yeah, men can be tactless.” A tactful phrasing if ever there was one.

Taking my research one step further, I found The Social Complex, a blog devoted to “heightism,” and a reprint of an article by “some random guy” that addresses the question “Why do guys like short girls?”

The article says:

• Guys feel inferior and insecure around tall women, powerful and secure around short ones.
• Guys think short women look like they need protection.
• Short women “feel nicer to hug.”
• Sex with short women is more enjoyable.
• Short women are the little dolls a guy never had but always wished that he did.
• Short women look more proportionate.
• Short women are like arm candy that helps guys win brownie points with their friends.
• Short women are more feminine than tall women.

In the final analysis, though, the article says, “Guys like short girls because they find them pretty and attractive.”

The “random guy” who wrote this turns out to be someone named Julia, which doesn’t mean it has no merit. Especially when you consider comments like these from a blog called “Short and small, you get WAY better hugs,” and “I am 5’4” and almost everyone I know is taller than me, but guys love short, cute girls—lol.”

Wait? Aren’t men always taking guff for loving tall, sexy girls?

What I glean from all this is that short is the worst/best word to use because women who aren’t tall hate/love to be called short because they assume society thinks they’re inferior/superior to tall women, and men who use the word “short”—even in their thoughts—are pigs/thoughtless, tactless jerks like all men and are using a term that’s universally considered offensive/perfectly fine. But since I have to give my audience what they want, I should/should not use “short” because my readers would prefer a hero who is true to himself/is politically correct and thinks like a woman.

Okay, what I really glean is that practically any word can be charged with meanings a writer never intended because of baggage that comes with the reader. Did my original critic experience something I don’t know about that makes her despise the word “short”? Can I really worry about that? Would substituting “petite” run me afoul of the community of Women Who Have Reasons to Hate the Word “Petite”?

Here are the facts: I’m not talking about guys here, I’m talking about one guy: Holt Richards. Sushma is barely five feet tall, and that’s one of the things Holt likes about her. He also likes her face and her figure—and her intellect and personality. He likes her hair, too—but when he finds out she’s cut it short, you know what? He’s still got the hots for her.

That should be enough to qualify one as a romantic hero. That—and being a man. And, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t imagine a man thinking of a woman as “petite.”

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