I recently had a story workshopped. Which, BTW, is the best thing ever, and every aspiring writer should do this. I gained three levels in one day. Anyway, in the story a male character is introduced and described by a female character as “tall, but not uncomfortably so.” A workshopper of the female persuasion asked me what the heck that meant.
“it isn’t clear who would be uncomfortable with (his) height or why (she) is considering potential uncomfortableness. In what context is she making this observation?
(She) could be thinking that (he) is quite tall but not so tall that it would be awkward for him (socially? physically?) […] (She) could be thinking that (he) is quite tall but not so tall that it would be awkward for her (psychologically? romantically?)”
It took me a bit of thinking to understand this. I am a somewhat tall man – 6’2” (188cm for the non-Americans). When I run into someone more than a couple inches taller than me (over 195ish cm) I get a sort of instinctual “grrrrr” reaction. It’s stupid and I try to ignore it, but I’m wary of them. Who is this person daring to be that much taller than I am? What are they planning?
I should have realized this ages ago, but most women don’t have this reaction. Upon considering my workshopper’s questions I was reminded of something my SO told me not too long ago, which I obviously never internalized. Height is for women what boob-size is for men. The person can’t control it; it’s objectively stupid; and the sex appeal is undeniable and deeply ingrained. It’s very hard to ever reach the limit of “too much”. Swapping the two around when trying to think like the other gender can help quite a bit.
With that in mind, I suddenly saw exactly where the confusion arose. If I read “Her boobs were big, but not uncomfortably so” I’d immediately have the same questions. I had failed deeply at understanding a non-me POV. That line was atrocious.
I have much to learn.