The Tallest Woman I Know: Interview with Aly Stosz
Interview and Photos by Amanda Stosz
Physically, I am the average female, at the national average height of 5’4”, but on one side of my family I’m the anomaly. When we go anywhere as a group, I stand out like a sore pinky, standing in at more than a foot below the rest of my family who all are well over 6 feet tall, mostly nearing 7 feet. But out in the world on their own, to say that their height is a rarity might be an understatement.
My younger sister, Aly, is within the 99.9 percentile for height in the world, only 0.1% of people in the world are in her height group at 6’9”. Using the tagline “Humongous Life” online, she embraces her stature and the sometimes amusing absurdity that comes with living in a world built for people who are a fraction of her size. As a giantess with a bubbly, inquisitive personality her presence is powerful and magnetic. Coming across a modern embodiment of an Amazon (legendary and mythical female warriors from the times of ancient Greece and Rome) can be shocking and exciting to strangers on the street or those first meeting her, but to me she’s just my little sister. I’ve known her since the day she was born and at least from the time she was in elementary school, at five years my junior, she’s been taller than me. I remember seeing her in kindergarten waiting in line with her classmates, from a distance you would have thought she was a teacher amongst the other students. We would joke together that she’s my “big little sister”. Few believe at first that we’re related when meeting us, because of the difference.
We both live in New York City now, having studied art and working in the creative industry. For myself going out in public, navigating the sheer volume of crowds in Manhattan as well as dodging catcalls and street harassment can be a test in patience, and this is just for me, as someone who doesn’t stand out amongst a crowd in any particular way. But for Aly, to use the old idiom, if she had a nickel for every time someone came up to her to tell her she’s tall, she’d be an extremely rich woman. For her, leaving the house means walking out onto a stage, everyone sees her, many acknowledge her, some stare, some “break their necks” doing double takes as she walks by, some take photos, sometimes behind her back, often without her permission. Sometimes the encounters are lewd, sometimes they’re rude, they can even cross the line to cruel, many times though it’s a positive interaction, but it’s an interaction she’s forced into nonetheless. It’s attention that is demanded of her, she’s always expected to be “on”. There’s no running out to a shop quickly, unnoticed and uninterrupted. Aly’s certainly learned to deal with the attention with patience and grace and it can lead to sometimes funny, amazing and interesting experiences. These are all things we’ve talked about and dissected so many times in the past between ourselves. Her life can be an experiment in others’ psychology when it comes to the reactions people have to her presence, reactions which can sometimes be just as extreme as her stature. Her mere existence as an extremely tall, feminine, female identifying cis-woman can challenge some people’s ideas of that identity and their relationship to it. For the most part, I believe that the initial reactions people have to seeing or meeting my sister, whether it’s neutral, positive or negative, it’s a reflection of their own psychology and how they feel about themselves which they then project onto her. Men can feel emasculated, people can feel intimidated, some can be titillated, others feel empowered, and those that know her love her for the amazing, beautiful person she is. For me, the person she’s grown up to be, the person I know her as, she inspires me to be more positive, to be more thoughtful and accepting, not to judge or make assumptions so quickly, and to challenge myself.
Before we move onto the interview, we’ll get the very frequently asked questions out of the way. So frequently, Aly's made a business card with the most pertinent highlights so that she can simply hand the questioner the card rather than exerting her energy answering them countless times:
- Aly’s height: 6’9”
- Weight: nobody’s business, it’s weird of you to ask
- Yes she’s tall
- Yes she’s always been tall
- No she does not play basketball
- We are half siblings, our father is 6’7”, her mother is 6’1". My mother is closer to 5’ (if you’re wondering how I ended up with the short end of the stick, so to speak).
Amanda Stosz: For the most part, throughout history women have been socially conditioned and expected to be delicate, small, to not take up space. The trope of the manic pixie girl who is saved by the male protagonist, was sort of the idealized woman most frequently presented to us in stories and movies during our most transformative years growing up (late 90s-00s). Obviously this fantasy of a diminutive, manic pixie girl is the exact opposite of your physical appearance. And that’s fine of course, but as a teenager, not fitting into whatever the current female trope is can be distressing. I hope for younger girls now that it’s improved with the progress that’s been made with things like the body positive movement, growing diversity in representation in media and fashion, and growing awareness on the ways that media affects us, but we still have a ways to go in that realm.
I remember when you came to visit me while I was in college in Providence, I guess you were about 16 years old at that point, and we went to the mall, there were a group of teenage boys trying to make fun of your height, they clearly felt threatened and demasculinized and tried to make their friend feel uncomfortable by suggesting he was romantically interested in someone taller than him. I know at the time this must have deeply hurt you, as it would any young, vulnerable person, to suggest that you weren’t worthy of love, affection or lust is a brutal attack on anyone’s self-esteem, but especially to a sensitive teenager, and especially for a physical characteristic that can’t be changed or controlled. How did you feel at the time when you had encounters like this growing up? How did you deal with them at the time to get through it?
I feel like this question might seem almost cruel/cold to an outsider, like I’m bringing up past trauma, but it's stuff we've talked through so many times together, so hopefully you get where I'm coming from.
Aly Stosz: Wow, I'm surprised I remember that! That sort of thing happened a whole lot starting when I was about 10 years old. It’s not cruel to ask because I have always had to think about these experiences extensively in order to get over them, so it doesn't hurt to look back on them. At least not much, not anymore
Amanda: I remember that instance in the mall was particularly bothersome, and also remember stepping in to call out exactly what they were doing. I was so headstrong growing up and relatively unaffected by bullying, having an awareness that it was more reflective of the bully's self worth and insecurity than my own, so I felt protective because I knew you were more sensitive and vulnerable to these types of things.
Aly: The one you mentioned at the mall happened at many malls over many years, and I felt each of them very deeply. I became sensitive as a response to being so large and getting constant public attention. To balance my huge stature I withdrew and became more people-pleasing and needy of the approval of others - attributes that seemed feminine to me. It wasn't just trying to be feminine, getting ridiculed and humiliated also affected my self esteem and so I based my worth more heavily on how people reacted to me. It’s amazing that you knew the public abuse (which is really what it felt like) was based on the insecurities of the person doling it out.... seems so obvious now! I had to get over all those confused ideas about my value being based on scenes like - a girl on the train proclaiming that I was amazing and made her feel stronger, or a dude in the mall screaming maniacally with fear "Monster!!!" and his friends doubled over cackling. It was a really hard thing for me to interpret how people reacted to and received me, especially strangers in public. Because all people use the reflections of ourselves in the responses of others to form our self image.
Amanda: The instance of public abuse or shaming reminds me now of witch trials: powerful women accused of witchcraft, found guilty and subsequently tortured and/or killed for daring step out of their place. It's interesting that you used positivity/people pleasing outwardly as a way to counteract your stature, I guess in a way as a performance to seem less threatening, because I feel lucky that I get to know you kind of unfiltered, you don't have to perform for me necessarily, and I can see that although you certainly have times that you feel down, like anyone, I feel like you're genuinely one of the most positive and outgoing people I know.
Aly: That is wonderful to hear! I had to get through all that garbage to get here though, but it helped me. I really think the question about witch trials is interesting. I had never put too much thought into my own public shaming as a way of putting down a powerful woman before. A woman that felt like a threat, and therefore needed to be subdued. It’s very interesting, because I also get sexualized a lot; more often now so. In the past I think people, men usually, could really see that I was vulnerable, yet they felt so embarrassed or insecure around me that it satisfied them deeply to humiliate me and hold that power in the face of their own perceived inadequacies.
Now, I don't get as much of that. I really think how you carry yourself, which is steeped in what you think of yourself, is a huge indicator to other people about how they can treat you. I don't get the witch trial as much anymore because I am very, very tall and also very, very strong and I carry myself breezily - accepting positive feedback with polite gratitude and outright denying anything else. Of course it comes through *sometimes*, like a few months ago I was walking in Flatiron and a bunch of kids on bikes screamed out "SUMO!!!" at me. And I was with friends which can be very embarrassing. But I let it roll off. Another time I was exiting the subway and someone started screaming so loud, maniacally, after me - I don't even remember what he was saying. But I was having a conversation with my boyfriend and we completely and utterly ignored him, gave him nothing. Personally, I found THAT deeply satisfying. In the witch trials, women didn't have any choice in their fate except to toe the line so that they didn't end up on the hanging platform. Thats where the difference lies because I have a lot of choice in how to accept or deny power plays.
Amanda: Being in public for you can basically be like you're constantly on stage, performing. You constantly have people coming up to you to let you know, "You're tall," (as if you don't know this) or to demand questions of you and acknowledging your differences. It's often positive when I've been with you, but then obviously you have the experiences where people treat you as a spectacle, such as the those instances you mentioned and like when we were at the Museum of Modern Art and there was that man who followed you throughout the museum, taking photos of you without your permission and sometimes behind your back and eventually he even grabbed you by the arm. There's a complex dynamic in those public instances where people, especially men feel entitled to your attention and to objectify you for your height, but then you were also able to find a way to capitalize on this by working as a fetish model for a period of time, where you took the power in a situation.
Aly: I noticed a lot of "amazon" women go into fetish modeling and things like sexy wrestling. My own experience in fetish modeling came from the fear that I wouldn't be able to make as much money in another job. I thought my extreme height would prevent opportunities. I think it’s the same thing that draws a lot of women to the sex industry. It’s the power you’re given culturally, and we're made aware of that from early childhood. My experience was relatively tame, if extremely odd. But it still drew power as the object of someone else's fantasy. I love all women so much, in my mind I try to consider womanhood on the whole in every way that I live. Is it slightly delusional? Possibly. But I often get the symbol of powerful womanhood placed on me and I'm not mad about it. I think I extend that love even further for sex workers, models, Dominatrixes, anyone who works in such stigmatized fields and make a living owning the power as a fantasy. Owning their power as a fantasy, as a sexualized object, and making a lot of money off of it. I see how it can be very gratifying. You're told your whole life that’s your worth, and then you actually get financial security, abundance, cold hard cash from that very thing you've struggled with & against your whole life. But for me it ended up being too dangerous. Psychologically it did a number on me, but I came out stronger. Physically it fucked me up really bad. I was doing these lift & carry shoots, and wrestling shoots. I got pushed into doing a shoot I wasn't comfortable with, lifting a guy almost 200 lbs. in a pair of high-heel slippers and also in an outfit I wasn't really comfortable with. I was still quite easy to manipulate at that time, I wasn't comfortable really standing up for myself because I still didn't see myself as worthy beyond how others judged me. I ended up breaking my leg and foot really bad - pretty much everything that you can break in your ankle, broke. So I had a long time to heal and think about the gravity of putting myself in dangerous situations for security and, what was for me, a false sense of pride and worth. Needless to say I don't fuck with that type of work anymore, but there a lot of women who do and I respect and love them all. And there are a lot of women who do so with such artistry, such awareness, and such power.
Amanda: I think self worth and body positivity is something everyone struggles with or through at some point. How did you work through it yourself and is there any advice you'd give to someone struggling with it?
Aly: I gently remind everyone I encounter that women are people, her humanity is the first indicator of her character, not how attractive she is to you. It’s difficult to get this across effectively, because of hurt feelings and whatnot. Social conventions die hard. I always thought I was ugly and it makes me so sad to think of other women going through that. In college I lived with a bunch of models and it drove me absolutely bonkers to hear my male roommates constantly commenting on how women looked everywhere, always, in every context. That, plus all the other awful encounters with men I've had, made me extremely angry. It was very close to home - I wanted to die in high school because I felt worthless, I actually believed I wasn't really a woman. Not the way women are supposed to be, and therefore I was hopeless and would never be loved or appreciated. That is the most basic need, to be accepted and loved. So I had to overcome all that anger and sadness, because trying to change people's perceptions through anger very rarely works. So I'm thrilled to live as a representation of another extremely unique body, different from the normal standard. My body is symbolic and though it is often tiring (the questions, stares, invasive picture taking), I am happy to live into that if it means more girls and women can expand their self love and perception of feminine power. It seems like my presence forces many people to look closer at themselves, and also how they perceive women. On a side note, being somewhat of an oddity brings people joy so I'm not about that either.
Amanda: Can you elaborate on that last statement a bit?
Aly: Anyone with an extreme physical attribute - huge hair, alopecia, extremely dark skin, or a body that functions differently than most - they stand out because of that attribute, and they struggle with and against it.
Think of all the instagram accounts where people flaunt their unique quality and attract a lot of attention for it - whether its vitiligo or a double mastectomy. Advertising it represents the glorious spectrum of humanity, and fights the idea of a hierarchy of value based on physical standards. Its a blessing to be rewarded for the very thing that has caused you suffering. I do this, I put myself out there as the "Humongous Girl." Its wonderful that we get to celebrate what we've been told is a flaw. On the other hand, there is a part of me that feels sickened by everyone branding themselves and boxing up their massively complex human potential into an easy to digest TV version of self. I love to do the opposite - to encourage people to expand ourselves and the world around them rather than narrow ourselves into brands. But I still use the form, I still take photos next to short people and giant statues or holding little tiny treasures. And I'm not mad about it. Its fun and easy to digest and invites people to look a little deeper, and there is always depth to discover past the superficial. On my public instagram and facebook pages I make sure of that, people's interest is initially piqued by the fact that I'm a giant, but if they want to ogle pics of me next to shorties, they're gonna have to chew on some thoughts about the complex beauty of the world and their own existence in it.
Amanda: Women also aren't always "allowed" to be angry, an angry woman is often written off as crazy or irrational, even if the anger is totally valid.
Aly: Yeah that is frustrating. I went through a period of being really angry though and I don't recommend it. It just made me sick, it can be gratifying but in an unhealthy way and it never made anyone listen to me or understand the things I was angry about. Find a good outlet for rage, because we all have it - hit a heavy bag, smash bottles in an alleyway, run, scream, etc. I do that - boxing is great. I also acknowledge the rage and then release it, but that came through a lot of practice and meditation. But I swear it is really possible and effective, and completely different from 'bottling it up,'
Amanda: Totally, it's just not healthy to hold onto anger on a personal level.
I’ve noticed you get a barrage of comments from men who fetishize you, to the point where some seem like they cross the line to creepy; Constantly asking about your height and weight, changes in appearance and even more personal questions. Sometimes the same people will comment on every single photo. I don’t know why this pisses me off, maybe I’m just feeling too protective and like, “She’s not here for you, she doesn’t owe you anything!” But really I think it would bother me no matter who it was, this dynamic of men feeling entitled to women, to their attention, etc. Does it bother you at all?
Aly: Yes it bothers me! I have different tricks and tools for dealing with it depending on the day and my mood. Usually ignoring it is best. But recently I realized, I don't really want some of these people "following" me. So when I get the weird questions like, "what's your height and weight now compared to when you were 8 years old?" I will block them straight away. Other people I'll just ignore, but if I'm in a silly mood and don't have anything else to do in the moment, I'll mess with them with both whimsy and sarcasm.
Some are so horrible that it becomes hilarious. A foot fetish guy was baiting me with a vanilla foot modeling gig for a shoe company, but I saw right through him. So he replied from a different account threatening to cut my feet off and force me to walk around on the stumps, but it was the vivid and poetic descriptions that really stood out. He also did the typical attempts to disempower me by belittling me and imagining if I were his footless slave. It was extremely bizarre. Stuff like that can also make me a little nervous, obviously. But for your run-of-the-mill fetishization,I find ignoring is the best thing, the same as with the public attempts to humiliate me in real life. I only play with them if I feel like it and for my own glee...
Amanda: You’ve had a job fulfilling other people’s fantasies in the past, but what’s your job/career fantasy?
Aly: The full immersion of a space, an event or party, that’s what I really want to do. I want to cross the all the boundaries between mediums and dimensions in my artwork. I threw huge insane parties when I was a teenager, then started managing an event production team in college. My fantasy is to create spaces as artwork, fuller dimensional experiences that manage to take people completely out of their lives for a moment while ultimately putting them back into their lives richer than they were before. Like going to another planet for a night. But I really love drawing. I've been practicing it with gusto literally since before I can remember. So I hope to have a side career creating fun images for musicians, parties, movies, festivals, books, galleries, and homes. And a third side career as a speaker and author. Thats a lot of stuff and I'm still leaving some out.
Amanda: I don’t want to make it seem as though being extremely tall is all bad or that you’re a victim of your situation. And of course there’s so much more to you than your height, but what are some of your favorite things about your unique stature? Can you describe any interesting, fun, positive experiences that you’ve had? I don’t want to give the impression that your life is anything short of amazing, because there’s so many great things that you do and have done, people you meet through your magnetic/outgoing personality and by standing out.
Aly: Being super tall is more of a blessing than a curse. Basically past my teen years it’s been nothing short of magnificent. I'm memorable and my height is an icebreaker. When I meet people I'm a fan of, they want to find out about who I am.
Liv Tyler stopped ME on the street. She was having a phone conversation and interrupted it because she wanted to talk to me. Michael Fassbender and I shared a glass of white wine and a pair of hot dogs at 2am in a small Colorado town, a few days later he remembered me by name and introduced me to Lupita Nyongo. I've been invited backstage at many concerts. It’s cool to be recognized by others who are so recognizable. And I know I can use my stature as a way to garner attention for my work. People want to know me, and they remember me. Whatever the reason, it’s a great feeling. But because of my body I had to grow up faster (people always thought I was older), I had to be ferociously okay with being myself and that made me develop all the beautiful & different qualities that lots of people probably sweep under the rug in order to fit in. I never fit in, I stood out, and I fucking owned it. I've had a wonderful and strange life, I would not trade it for any other life.
On a serious note, I'm rarely scared walking by myself late at night the way that many women are. People respect me inherently, which as I said before has a lot to do with how I carry myself. But of course there is great authority in being strong and tall, and I carry it gently because I know it can be upsetting or intimidating to others. At one point that may have been me dulling my shine or whatever, but at this point it’s just compassion and love and I'm still shining just as brightly, just with consideration and understanding of my impact.
Amanda: You’ve gotten into fitness over the last few years and I’ve really seen the transformation you’ve accomplished in the confidence you’ve gained from having fun with it and challenging yourself and improvements in your overall wellness (mentally, emotionally, and physical health). Rather than shrinking, you’re building yourself up by strength training and building muscle. Fitness and nutrition has really become a big, essential part of your life. Talk about some of the ways it’s helped you and what you’re doing with it.
Aly: Starting with food - food is of massive importance to your mood, state of mind, and body functions! I love food so much, and eating more than almost anything in the world. Everyone should go on their personal food journey and find what works best for their body, mind, and emotions. The same goes for fitness... for the last six years I've been grinding out on food and exercise, learning what’s best for my body. Being as big and tall as I am, there are chronic pains and injuries that I could easily just say, "well that's the way it is." But it’s not, I'm in control, because I built a lot of muscle to support my frame. This one summer, when I was 21 and I lived with five girls, they all had work out regimens and managed their bodies lovingly. I didn't even know that was what real people did. Sounds crazy. They inspired me and I was able to lose 80 lbs., with a lot of cardio and healthful calorie counting. Prior to that I would eat entire large pizzas and a full bag of lay's chips for dinner many nights.
Then I stopped for a few months, but I met my boyfriend [a fitness/personal trainer] who has really coached me through the difficult part that comes after a huge weight loss, where you have to design a healthy lifestyle that you can actually sustain forever. With his patient guidance and gentle cajoling (it was real difficult getting through some food and body issues) I have explored many types of exercise and food to find the stuff that works for me. A few years ago we created this group exercise class together and it brought people a lot of joy, camaraderie, and muscles. I hope to reincarnate it, specifically for women. There's nothing like working out together, doing something good for yourself while basking in the company of good people. I also hope to speak more on all this stuff because I have a lot to say! I have a lot to say about the difficulty getting through food and body issues. You have to be brave and try things that are hard, believe you can do it. It helps to have a person or people to cheer you on and hold you accountable. Another reason for me to start a fitness group! Look out for it.
Amanda: Would you consider yourself a “body positive” activist/advocate, or doing anything to promote diversity in representation? I think you’re right that people are forced to look closer at themselves and their perception of not only women, but also femininity and masculinity and so called “norms” in those realms. I feel like I’ve noticed the wheels turning in some people’s heads processing things that they had perhaps never considered prior to meeting you after their initial ice breaker of “You’re tall”.
Aly: Oh boy I would like to call myself a body positive activist but I'm hesitant to say that. There are many brave souls out there representing for that movement. I've never posted photos or videos of my belly out, the part of my body that I'm most self conscious of. I've lived on both sides of the spectrum and it’s a strange divide between bodies that are widely considered beautiful and those that are lusted after shamefully. When I've been "too fat" to be openly lusted after, all people loved me platonically like a big cushy teddy bear. When I slimmed down there was a noticeable shift in how people treated me - sure, men catcalled me more and did all the aggressive weird lustiness more openly, but all people were markedly less friendly and warm to me.
Promoting diversity in representation has been my call for most of my life, I was fat from age 8, the torture was imposed and then I turned it on myself. If emasculated is a word that men can use, I want to say felt totally … defeminized. I mean that it felt like I wasn't worthy of the title "woman." The fact that social roles torment those of us that don't quite fill the cookie mold is gross. All people are allowed to be (and be happy about it), and should be the version of themselves that most fulfills them. I do respect people who fill the standard roles, but it doesn't go both ways if they benefit from the system and can't recognize or care about how it disadvantages others.
I don't know if I would call myself an activist, I don't do much activism beyond just living as I am as fully and consciously as I can. It's never been a choice I had. I appreciate being both different and being strong/enormous, because I want to bolster anyone who suffers from being judged as socially less valuable. And people do respect my opinion and perspective in part because of my size, which is clearly a huge privilege.
Men do question their identities around me and I'm glad I can do that for them. I think it’s really important to look inside at how you define yourself and why. But then, "Wow you're so tall, you're totally emasculating me," is so obnoxious and tiresome. They look at me like I'm supposed to do something about it or make them feel better. That's your problem buddy, think about it, grow.
Amanda: Are there any women who have inspired you or been a role-model in your life?
Aly: Honestly my Mom is basically my best friend, we get each other. She's wild at heart and looks just like Laura Dern. But my Grandma really made it her job to support me as a woman and an artist. My grandmother was very moderate, she liked beige, vacationing on Cape Cod, folding chairs, and Hillary Clinton, and at heart she was a stone cold feminist always pushing for the underdog in her starchy New England way. She laid me in front of a handful of crayons and a few sheets of printer paper as a toddler, and never stopped encouraging me or putting new tools in my hand. Maybe it’s corny but I try to make it in this convoluted career for her.
As for idols... off the top of my head: Baddie Winkle, Remedios Varo the surrealist painter, Erykah Badu, artist Isamaya French, and Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein and is a damn genius. Britney Spears! I'm also enjoying Miley Cyrus developing creatively. Gabby Reece (volleyball) and Valerie Adams (shot put).
Find Aly online: