Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Brock McGoff.
Are you a short man? Are you smaller than most other men? Does your physical stature sometimes make you feel more like a boy than a man?
Back in the day, I was always the shortest kid in class. Still am, actually. I’m 5’6″ in boots, and I’ve never broken 130 lbs.
So I guess you could call me a small man, although I prefer the term “svelte.”
On top of this, I just look young. I can’t grow a mustache or a beard, and I don’t have much hair on my chest.
I get carded every time I order a drink, and I can barely reach the hand holds on the subway.
My basketball career ended after middle school when everyone else was hitting their adolescent growth spurts. And it was impossible to find a suit that didn’t look like a hand-me-down from my big brother.
Needless to say, this really brought me down (pun intended).
My height, or lack thereof, used to be a huge source of insecurity. To be honest with you, it still is sometimes, especially:
- When I can’t find clothes that fit.
- When my girlfriend asks me to get something she can’t reach, and I can’t reach it either.
- When I can’t see anything at concerts.
- When people make fun of me (yes, that still happens sometimes).
But it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. I’m not focused on it anymore. My height doesn’t own me. I own it.
Being short isn’t something that happened to me. It is me. It’s who I am. And it took almost thirty years to realize that it’s not a bad thing.
It’s forced me to care about much more important traits like personality and selflessness. It has driven me to focus on building confidence and feeling manly in ways that have nothing to do with the genetic hand that I was dealt.
In other words, being the short kid has taught me an extremely valuable lesson:
Focus only on that which you can control.
You see, in your life, there are so many things you can’t control — your height, going bald, your IQ, how you were raised…the list goes on.
Focusing on these things (which really means worrying about them) is a complete waste of time.
Instead, you should spend your time focusing on things you can control, such as:
- Knowledge (as opposed to raw intelligence)
- People skills
- Appearance (dress, grooming, mannerisms)
These are the areas on which you should focus your physical and mental energy because these are the things that lead to confidence.
Confidence Is Just a Construct
Confidence isn’t real. It’s a mental construct. It’s not the “thing” but the result. Which is why simply telling someone to “be more confident” isn’t very helpful.
You see this a lot over at Reddit’s /r/short subreddit. Male members of this short-statured community often voice their frustrations with dating and blame their height for their lack of romantic success.
Regardless of whether this is the case, more often than not the advice they get goes something like: “Women don’t care about height, they care about confidence. So you should stop worrying about your height and try to be more confident.”
If only it were that easy! You can’t just choose to be confident. Think about what confidence actually is: A confident man is totally self-assured. He appreciates and relies on his own abilities and qualities. Whether it’s approaching a woman, nailing an interview, or fixing a toilet, a confident man genuinely feels that he can get the job done. He believes in himself enough to let other people trust in and rely on him.
That self-respect and self-reliance is confidence. And you can’t get more of that by thinking and hoping. You have to give yourself reasons to believe in yourself — reasons that have nothing to do with the stuff you can’t control, like your height.
2 Effective Ways to Be More Confident
Personally, I’ve focused much of my energy on gaining skill and competence in two specific areas that are perfect for men who aren’t exactly “perfect 10s,” especially shorter gents like me:
- Dressing well.
- Learning how to fight.
These sound like two completely unrelated pursuits, but martial arts and personal style actually have a lot in common:
- They’re addictive.
- They encourage you to stay in shape.
- They’re gradual and iterative.
- They’re long-term and never-ending (there’s no finish line).
That’s not all they have in common. Martial arts training and dressing well can be frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive.
But both of these things have huge impacts on confidence, and they’re both totally worth pursuing.
Let’s dig deeper into each.
How to Start Dressing Well
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of improving your image, we should answer an important question that often gets overlooked:
Why does dressing better make you more confident?
The right clothes can emphasize the positive aspects of your build, minimize its not-so-hot parts, and make you look more fit, put-together, masculine, and handsome than you “really” are. This has an effect that works on two levels: you feel better about yourself and thus carry yourself better, and at the same time, people compliment you more and approach and interact with you differently. Both effects feed into a positive feedback loop: the better you look, the more confident you act, and the more confident you act and better you look, the more positive feedback you get from others, which only makes you feel more confident!
Confidence comes from both without and within, and external signals from others have a big effect on how you feel on the inside. Your brain thinks, “People are treating me like a competent, good-looking guy, therefore, I must be one.”
Yet dressing better is hardly an automatic ticket to more confidence. In fact, if you go about it the wrong way, it can have the very opposite effect.
Oftentimes when guys decide they’d like to start dressing better they go from one extreme to another — from jeans and t-shirts to sport coats and trousers. They feel over-dressed in many situations, and they often are over-dressed. So too, the new garments they choose frequently don’t fit them well, and are baggy and unflattering. Thus, instead of their clothes helping them feel confident, the new duds actually make them feel more self-conscious and awkward.
As a style rookie, the first thing you want to focus on isn’t actually selecting types of clothing at all, but ensuring they have the right fit. Fit is truly 80% of dressing well, which is why it sits at the top of the style pyramid.
Do you want to look leaner?
Wear clothes that fit.
Want to look taller?
Wear clothes that fit.
Want to look more manly?
Wear clothes that fit!
You get the point. Regardless of body type, clothes that fit properly make you look more athletic, put-together, and confident than clothes that fit poorly.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Unless you have a completely average body type, most clothes won’t fit perfectly off the rack (without alterations). So if you’re extra short/skinny/tall/large, you’re out of luck.
In this case, the first step is to understand how clothes should fit. Start with the basics:
Once you understand how clothes are supposed to fit, you need to audit your wardrobe to see what’s worth keeping, what can be tailored, and what needs to go.
Be brutally honest here. If you haven’t worn something in over a year, give it away as soon as possible.
After this cleanse is complete, you can build a wardrobe full of clothes that flatter your body type.
Only after you understand fit should you start focusing on other aspects of style. Specifically, try to figure out:
Start upgrading your wardrobe by simply taking what you currently wear up a notch or two. For example, swap out your t-shirts for polos, your baggy light-colored jeans for some dark, well-fitted denim, and your sneakers for chukkas. As you become more comfortable in your slightly more dapper wardrobe, and start taking notice of where and when to wear certain garments, you can experiment with button-down shirts, non-denim pants, and yes, even sport coats.
And make sure to buy some compression shorts and a pair of boxing gloves, because you’re going to need them to learn how to fight.
Learning How to Fight
I’ve never been in a real fight. Sure, my older brother beat up on me, and I beat up on my younger brothers (and we all beat up on our cousin, Matt). But I’ve never been in an all-out street brawl.
And you know what? That’s a good thing. Fighting is scary and dangerous, even if you “win.”
But it’s also inherently primal and oddly thrilling, isn’t it? I don’t want to fight anyone, but on some level, I do want to be tested. I want to know that, if I had to, I could protect myself and my loved ones.
In an interview with MMA Mania, Ryan Holiday said:
“While training jiu jitsu, I thought about Theodore Roosevelt a lot. Theodore Roosevelt was a weak, frail kid. His father actually came to him and was like, ‘You’ve got a great mind but a very weak body, and a strong mind can’t do what it needs to do with a weak body.’ But Roosevelt didn’t just work out and lift dumbbells. It was about testing himself physically throughout his life: the idea of ‘The Strenuous Life.’ It’s about challenging yourself both mentally and physically. Jiu jitsu and MMA are the purest expressions of that idea. They’re as simple as it gets.”
Author Tucker Max, another MMA fan, had this to say about fighting:
“I think the thing that really clicked with me about MMA was how much more honest and real it was than anything else I’d ever done as an athlete. It just made sense to me on a deep, primal level.”
I guess you can take the man out of the cave, but you can’t take the cave out of the man, because fighting is more popular than ever. Partially due to the success of the UFC, mixed martial arts has become a huge industry.
There are more and more MMA gyms opening up in every city across America, which means that anyone who’s interested in learning how to fight can do so in a safe, supportive environment.
I remember the first time I walked into an MMA gym. It was located in the basement of an old church in an “up and coming” part of the city. It was warm and humid and smelled like sweat. I heard the sound of gloves hitting the bags and hands slapping the mat.
They offered a bunch of different classes — everything from boxing to self-defense to grappling.
I decided to focus on Brazilian jiu-jitsu because I heard that was a good fighting style for smaller people. In fact, some of the earliest practitioners of BJJ were relatively small men.
This makes sense because jiu-jitsu is mostly ground fighting, and on the ground, height and size aren’t nearly as important as they are on your feet.
Do you know what it feels like to take a man who’s twice your size down to the mat then force him into submission? Talk about a confidence boost!
If you think BJJ might be for you, you should check out the Art of Manliness video series featuring Rener Gracie, a member of the family who created and popularized the style:
- The History of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- The Philosophy of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- Intro to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: The Basics
If you’re feeling the urge to fight, I strongly recommend that you find a local BJJ, MMA, or boxing gym, and go check it out.
Use Google or Yelp to find an academy near your house or workplace. Give them a ring, and tell them you’d like to come in for a trial class (most gyms will let you sit in on one or two classes for free).
Then stick with it! No matter what style you choose, it’s going to be physically and mentally challenging. But it will get easier if you persist and you show up every week.
And the feeling you get that first time you make someone tap out? Well, you’ll just have to experience that for yourself.
We’re all insecure about something. It’s usually something we can’t control, like our height. Do your best to ignore these things, and instead focus on what you can control, such as learning new skills (like martial arts) and presenting yourself in the best possible way (by dressing well).
And remember: For most of us, feeling confident isn’t a natural state. It’s a byproduct of taking action, forming habits, and constantly improving
Brock McGoff runs The Modest Man, a style resource for short men who want to dress better and feel more confident. Check out his free PDF guide, How to Dress Taller: 11 Crucial Style Tips for Short Men.