Growth stunt

If this is your idea of a defect, you’ve got issues I don’t even want to know about:

To treat young healthy prepubescent girls with a known carcinogen to stunt their adult height sounds like a bizarre science fiction experiment, but it is unfortunately true. From 1959 through the 1970s physicians and researchers from the Royal Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne, gave adolescent girls of tall stature a powerful estrogenic hormone with a growing list of known side effects called diethylstilbestrol (stilboestrol) or DES.

DES had been used in obstetrics to prevent miscarriage, in farm animals to bulk up livestock before slaughter and to caponise (castrate) chickens from the 1940s through 1970s. Early on, the drug was found to be ineffective in preventing miscarriage and serious side effects including cancer were noted. Indeed, cancer in farm hands caring for animals treated with DES and concern about the effect DES infused meat might have on human health caused the FDA to ban its use in poultry farming in 1958, well before banning its use in human women. Despite the risks associated with this drug, clinicians and researchers in Victoria, Australia, funded by governmental agencies and throughout the US, Norway, and elsewhere, thought stunting the growth of tall girls, for purely psychosocial reasons, was a good idea.

The rationale behind treating tall girls was so they could do ballet, buy clothes more easily, and find boyfriends and husbands. DES was used on healthy girls for purely psychosocial reasons. Apparently, being a tall girl was reason enough to consider medical treatment with a powerful, largely untested, synthetic estrogen with mounting evidence of carcinogenicity.

How many of these researchers were men five-foot-six and under who couldn’t get laid to save their lives, we’ll never know.

And yes, I’ve been turned down for lack of height — and I was about 6’1″ back then. It would never have occurred to me to take it personally.

(With thanks to Fausta Wertz, who’s 5’10” and perfectly content with it, thank you very much.)


  1. fillyjonk »

    10 July 2019 · 6:58 am

    One for the “people are terrible, and have always BEEN terrible” files.

    (I am 5′ 7″ and wouldn’t mind having a couple more inches of height, but you play the hand you’re dealt in this life)

  2. McGehee »

    10 July 2019 · 8:30 am

    Being almost a foot taller than Mrs. McG, this deponent taketh the Fiftheth.

  3. hollyh »

    10 July 2019 · 9:40 am


    But forgive me, it reminds me of one really funny scene from the Mary Tyler Moore show. Poor little Mary-the-good-girl-pleaser tries desperately to hunch down to be shorter than her height-challenged date, even while he keeps making it difficult by moving out of position for her adjustments. I assume that this scene intended to demonstrate the folly of always trying to accommodate everyone’s silly expectations.
    This is also why I make a point of bragging about my large foot-size (10 wide, thank you very much).

  4. CGHill »

    10 July 2019 · 9:24 pm

    Nothing wrong with size 10, as my tallish daughter would tell you.

    A few years back, Paris Hilton (!) introduced a shoe line that, in pure Spinal Tap style, goes up to 11 — which is, it turns out, the size Spicy Paris wears. (Now I’m wondering how Taylor Swift squeezes into a 9.)

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