Given my 5-foot-6 stature, my obsession with celebrity heights isn’t an exercise in stanning as much as it is a form of reassurance. Case in point: I tearfully remember Googling “height of Pete Wentz” after I was turned down by a prospective prom date. The search results — 5-foot-5 — provided all the proof I needed that everything would ultimately be okay (provided, I guess, that I joined a band).
Many of my fellow short kings have been known to do the same thing. Pavan, a Wentz-esque 5-foot-5, tells me that going to a school filled with white kids meant that he’d always get called “shorty” and “midget,” even though he was actually 2 inches taller than the average Sri Lankan male. “Seeing that there were other celebrities — white celebrities! — who were my height and shorter, but who were revered, was comforting,” he laughs. “It made me feel like I wasn’t abnormal, and that I should get on with other things in my life.”
Meanwhile, Chris Abott, a 5-foot-3 accountant, has employed this strategy in reverse — much to the detriment of his self-confidence. “In my early 20s, an ex broke up with me, and a few weeks later, she was dating a guy who was 6-foot,” he explains. “Sometimes I’d Google the height of random celebrities or well-known people, just to try prove that the reason they had good-looking partners was because they were tall. It was a way of convincing myself that I wasn’t actually a bad fit for her.”
An obsession with comparing heights — and by extension, seeing taller men as more “alpha” — remains among the most effective means of literally belittling your opponents. You need to look no further than the 2020 presidential race, in which Donald Trump continues to refer to former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg as “Mini Mike” and a “5-foot-4 mass of dead energy.” Despite Bloomberg actually being around 5-foot-8 (something his press team has repeatedly emphasized), Trump’s statement was enough for the media to ask: Can a short man really be president?.
Such questions are probably why celebrity heights are frequent topics of discussion on forums like Quora as well as on subreddits like r/short and r/tall. As with me, members there often compare their own heights to celebrities, or in some cases, berate the media for referring to celebrities as short when they’re of “average” or “slightly above-average” height.
The real battle, however, is over at CelebHeights.com. The site, which has existed for more than a decade, is considered the most “accurate” source of celebrity height info out there (hence, obviously, the name). Rob, the Scotland-based founder of the site, told BuzzFeed in 2015 that he started it after being concerned that he’d stopped growing once he hit the 5-foot-8 mark at age 14. His inquiry led him to discover that the “height information being put on the web” about celebrities was “wildly off the mark.” He decided to solve this problem by creating a single site where a single editor scrutinized various data points to determine a single answer.
Though he doesn’t go into much detail about his methodology, Rob collects every piece of public information that might give clues to a particular celebrity’s height — e.g., press and paparazzi photos that place them in outside environments (which allows him to contrast a celebrity’s height to that of a particular building or public landmark) — to come up with the most accurate reading possible. In fact, Rob was tapping into a sophisticated Open Source Intelligence Network (OSINT) long before it was used by journalists to analyze the movements of jihadis in Syria or Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine.
Still, there are major disputes about his and Celebrity Heights’ findings. The best example is Tom Cruise’s entry, where you’ll find 15 pages of extraordinarily detailed counterarguments. “I don’t see how Cruise could be a flat 5’7” if Jamie Foxx is 5’9.5” minimum because Foxx has never looked a full 2” taller than Cruise, much less 2.5,” one comment reads. “Tom’s shoes look pretty normal that night, imo. He has often worn 5-6 cm elevators over the last decade, but he can pass for a 174, even 175 cm guy at times and has looked like he’d measure 176-177 cm in them, making him 171-172 range barefoot.”
Other commenters dispute the photos Rob uses in his calculations, believing that a better reading would account for “morning height” (i.e., when one is at their tallest), rather than “evening height” (i.e., when gravity compresses one’s spine and leaves them shorter than usual). Some also believe that a cabal of publicists have infiltrated the community to plant inaccurate measurements of their celebrity clients in order to make them appear taller.
Of course, the stakes are much higher elsewhere online — particularly on Wikipedia, where armies of volunteer fact-checkers (such as 54-year-old software engineer John Wirrell) pride themselves on being the gold standard of the truth. They verify information that others — namely, journalists, politicians and think-tank wonks — either don’t have the time to check or find too minor to worry about. To do so, they use everything from source material, to obscure academic papers, to public records. Sometimes, Wirrell explains, “that might be the type of college degree someone studied, and where they placed in their graduating class.” Other times, it might be the accuracy of a scientific measurement or the category of an element on the periodic table.
It’s the lack of this background material, Wirrell tells me, that would make it difficult for height verifiers to make determinations within a small margin of error. “If you were going to find out someone’s true height, and you think they’re lying, you’d have to take in lots of different factors,” he says. “You’d measure their heights against other celebrities, but you’d also have to factor in things like the shoes they’re wearing, the cut of their clothes, even the shadow they cast. At that point, you’re then trying to figure out the position of the sun relative to their geographic location. It can get very complicated.”
Especially when emotion is involved. Because even a cursory look at the comment sections of Celebrity Heights and Reddit, shows that discussions about height rarely focus on the actual measurement (the Cruise example notwithstanding), than what users feel it represents. On a r/short thread about celebrity heights, a user commented that they Googled the height of Broadway actors after seeing that one — who was an inch shorter than him — had “played many roles I would love to get that I believed I wasn’t tall enough for.” There are also those on r/short and r/tall who hate Celebrity Heights, referring to it as “toxic” and — akin to incel communities — reinforcing negative stereotypes about short men as a way to justify their self-hatred. “Celeb Heights is full of shit,” redditor TekkenWarrior wrote last year. “The place is basically just [a] bunch of idiots trying to ‘win’ their version of a dick-measuring contest. And what’s going to inflate the ego better than trying to claim you’re bigger than a celebrity?”
All that said, Wirrell doesn’t believe that people shouldn’t be trying to get accurate information regarding the height of public figures. Trump’s attack on Bloomberg, Wirrell says, shows that height measurements aren’t just a niche interest, but should be treated as a political point — one in which accurate measurement is valuable to the public. More importantly, he adds, “Any fact, regardless of how mundane it seems, is important to someone.”
I wouldn’t know that Pete Wentz is 5-foot-5 otherwise.