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People

1.8m tall NTU lasses

In a world where it’s easier to fit in than stand out, how tough is it for two NTU female undergrads who are more than 1.8m tall? Chrystal Chan hears them out and investigates how height is determined

PHOTOS: KOH BOON PIN

All 14-year-old Yuolmae Ang wanted to do was fit in with her peers, but at 1.72m, she towered over her classmates, earning her the nickname “Yuolbeanpole”.

“Back then, I was very conscious about my height, especially because everyone else was a head and a half shorter than me. For most of my teens, I hunched my shoulders and wished desperately that I was shorter,” says the second-year art, design & media student.

By the time she was 16, she hit 1.79m, and kept growing for another two years until she eventually reached 1.81m.

First-year accountancy and business student Choo Jie Ying’s experience as a tall teenager was similar. At 13, she was a lanky 1.72m. As a secondary three student, she stood at 1.8m, way above the heads of her classmates.

“I was quite self-conscious because I was taller than most of my friends, even the boys! Strangers would come up to me and bombard me with questions like why I am so tall,” says Jieying.

Tall-people problems

Yuolmae

With their awkward teenage years behind them, both Yuolmae and Jie Ying have come to terms with their height.

Yuolmae, with her 106-cm legs, was one of the top 15 finalists in The New Paper New Face 2018 competition and is currently represented by a modelling agency. Jie Ying’s stature helps her excel in the Singapore National Youth Basketball team, where she plays the centre position. However, they admit to their share of tall-people problems, which range from clothing to boyfriend issues.

“Many people ask me if I will ever date a guy shorter than me. I am not sure I will, but there may be exceptions,” says Jie Ying. “I do wish I can wear heels more often though. I love wearing them but most people discourage me from doing it,” she adds.

Yuolmae (right), who has no qualms about having shorter boyfriends, is in a good place now with her current boyfriend who is 1.85m tall. The leggy model says: “Having a boyfriend who is taller helps me feel more normal and less like a pole. It’s great!”

Both agree that when it comes to taking pictures, being tall is no fun. Not only does Yuolmae have to stoop or stand with her legs apart when she’s posing for photos with friends, she was once on the receiving end of someone’s ire.

“I used to be the photographer for school events. Once, I got an official complaint for being too tall and blocking the view of the spectators behind me,” recalls Yuolmae.

“What I dread most about taking photos is ending up as the human selfie stick. My face always appears the largest,” says Jie Ying.

How do you grow?

Yuolmae and Jie Ying have their parents to thank for their stature. According to Assoc Prof Eric Yap, a human and microbial geneticist from NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, height is determined by genetic and environmental factors.

He cites a 2016 study on human height done in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, which found that people across the world have grown taller over the past century, especially women in parts of Asia like Japan and Korea. South Korean women have grown 20cm taller over the last 100 years, while Singaporean women have increased in average height from 1.47m to 1.6m, thanks to reasons like economic prosperity and better nutrition.

Jie Ying

“It is true that genes influence the maximum height that an individual can achieve. But genes alone don’t determine your final height,” says Assoc Prof Yap. “Whether someone can achieve that genetic potential is driven by a host of other factors, such as diet, health and other environmental factors.”

What’s interesting is that both girls have even surpassed the heights of their tall fathers. Yuolmae’s dad stands at 1.8m, while Jie Ying’s is 1.78m. Their mothers are both under 1.7m tall. The girls’ respective siblings, too, have some catching up to do in the height department.

Could diet have played a part in their extraordinary growth spurt? As children, Yuolmae and Jie Ying (left) drank a lot of milk. “I chugged a few bottles every day until I was about 10,” Jie Ying recalls.

“Diet and nutrition play a particularly important role in childhood growth,” concedes Assoc Prof Yap. “However, height does not continually increase with improved nutrition. It plateaus off, so over-nutrition results in weight gain without height gain.”

Then, does playing sports spur height growth? As children, Yuolmae enjoyed dancing and jumping rope, while Jie Ying played basketball and other ball games.

Assoc Prof Yap believes the opposite to be true: “Height influences the types of sports or skills one picks up, not the other way around. I wouldn’t say playing basketball from young makes one taller. Basketball teams pick tall and, of course, skilful and athletic players.”

“No food has been scientifically proven to increase height,” he adds.

Whether Hobbit-esque or sky-scraping, perhaps the key to height happiness is in seeing the lighter side of things, as the two have.

Jie Ying says: “I’m a friendly giant loved by kids who want to see the view from up here. Plus, at home, standing on a chair, I’m the only one in my family who can reach and clean the ceiling fans.”

“I’ve found my confidence from being on the catwalk and modelling,” says Yuolmae.