(With media updates)
They were the same height. More or less.
The most incredibly popular tweet of my life was this:
Many people, assuming I was making some kind of argument about sexism, complained that the tweet was a mountain towering over a molehill, that rules of photographic composition, philatelia, ergonomics, or royal succession somehow required the stamp to be composed this way. In response, I composed the new most incredibly popular tweet of my life:
By then it hit the international press, which apparently has had the same decimation of the reportorial workforce that we’ve had here, so they write articles about tweets where the only background information provided is from other tweets in the thread. So we got:
- Daily Star: Cringe Prince Charles and Diana pic sparks shock theory – can YOU spot why? (the “shock theory” was the joking suggestion that Charles was wearing heels)
- Cosmopolitan UK: The weird thing you never noticed about all these pictures of Princess Diana and Prince (the pictures made him look taller)
- Harper’s Bazaar (UK): Why was Princess Diana Always Made to Look Shorter than Prince Charles?
- Independent Indy100: This picture shows how insecure men can be, and it’s worse than we thought
- Vanity Fair (Spain): El engaño que esconden estas imágenes del príncipe Carlos y Diana de Gales
- Marie Claire (UK): Can you spot what’s wrong with all of Charles and Diana’s photos?
- El País: ¿Por qué Lady Di se veía más baja que Carlos de Inglaterra si medía solo dos centímetros menos?
- Elle (Netherlands): Het gekke ding dat je vast nog nooit is opgevallen aan al die foto’s van Prinses Diana en Prins Charles
- RDS (Italy): Carlo e Diana: dopo 36 anni emerge un particolare nascosto in ogni foto
- Evoke (Ireland): Charles and Diana lied about one major thing and you can’t unsee it
- Rue89 (France): Diana et Charles faisaient la même taille. Et pourtant, sur les photos… (this one added research on height preferences, and evolutionary psychology theory)
- O Sul (Brazil): Por que Lady Di parecia ser bem mais baixa do que o príncipe Charles?
- 9 News (Sydney): Princess Diana and Prince Charles were actually the same height
- Sunday Express: Something’s wrong with this Prince Charles and Princess Diana stamp – but can YOU spot it?
The last one had this awesome graphic:
The Italian service of Huffington Post even produced the definitive video record of the tweet. Anyways.
The actual facts are that we don’t know exactly how tall they were. Like with popular athletes, the biometric data we have about royalty should be considered suspiciously. At the time of their wedding, in July 1981, everyone saw that they were of similar height, and saw the stamp depicting his head above hers. In response, Buckingham Palace put out a statement announcing that he was an inch taller than her. It was reported in the Stamps column of the New York Times on July 26 like this:
To me that seems like a Trumpian lie. “You say I was caught lying, but because of this other untruth my original lie is in essence true.” Making a taller person look even taller seems less egregious than reversing the height advantage. But I don’t know for sure.
The funny thing about resurrecting a 36-year-old scandal is it seems that, among those interested, half nod knowingly and say, “That always annoyed me!” and the other half say, “mind blown.” It’s not just memories, of course the milieu has changed; anger at “masculinity so fragile” that it requires trick photographs has replaced the routine acceptance of trick photography in the service of propriety. And of course the legacy of Diana as unhappy wife to unfaithful creep — and virtual saint — has changed the tone.
Anyway, I’m in the category of people who’ve been talking about this for years:
- I first raised it in 2010, using the picture of the stamp and others as an example of the taller-man norm: “But the rigid adherence to this norm results in a daily, intimate interaction among almost all couples that reinforces the bigger-stronger/smaller-weaker gender dichotomy.”
- In 2011, on Sociological Images, Lisa Wade said of the photos: “This effort to make Charles appear taller is a social commitment to the idea that men are taller and women shorter. When our own bodies, and our chosen mates, don’t follow this rule, sometimes we’ll go to great lengths to preserve the illusion.”
- In 2013 I returned to the issue, this time with data showing that U.S. men and women sort themselves into couples that exacerbate the existing difference in average height between them.
Finally, I included the stamp picture and the data analysis in my textbook, The Family, writing:
The taller husband conjures up images of the protective, dominant man (“Let me reach that for you”) with a nurturing, supportive wife (“Can I fix you a sandwich?”). To choose a high-profile example, such an image was apparent in many official photos of Britain’s Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Although Charles was actually 1 inch taller than Diana, he often looked shorter than her in candid pictures. But when they posed for portraits, he usually stood on a box or step, as in the picture for the stamp commemorating their royal wedding (Currie 1981). The idea of women as the weaker sex corresponds to the pattern of male domination in modern society, as symbolized by the muscular male athlete and the taller husband.
The reference there is to a news article that uncritically accepted the official heights reported by the authorities. People like to use Google and Wikipedia to find and debate the “official” heights, and to find photos that show them side by side. There may be no true answer.
This who line of criticism eventually led me to the issue of actual fantasy, in the form of sexual dimorphism in animation. That’s a whole nother tag.