The Towering Drama Inside The Site That Measures Celebrity Heights
The man behind CelebHeights is not here to make friends.
In a recent episode of the podcast Mystery Show, a listener asks host Starlee Kine to solve a surprisingly thorny melon-scratcher: How tall is Jake Gyllenhaal? The premise of Kine's show is to solve insignificant but intriguing humdingers that can't be sussed out online. The listener had noticed that in the movie Source Code, Jake sometimes seemed kind of short, and yet in other scenes, seems kind of tall. Curious, he googled "how tall is Jake Gyllenhaal," which led him to CelebHeights.com. However, the entry for Jake on the site (which has charmingly retained its 2004 design) only increased the mystery of his real height. According to the comments section:
One user explained his theory compared to other celebs:
"I heard he's taller than Gordon Ramsey and Will Smith. Slightly shorter than Hugh Jackman. Same height as Elle Macpherson in heels. 180cm is out of the question. 187cm for Jonathon Ross. 179 for Jake."
User Mr-KILLER-SHRIMP thought:
"Indeed Chris, this guy is 178 range at best. Clearly sub 180."
This comment ignited a [sic] flame war:
"From what I'm seeing Mr-KILLER-SHRIMP your one heck of a downgrader...and I'm certain you've got a height complex.You will probably lie if I ask how tall are you,and don't worry I don't even care.Why am I saying this and being a bit rude? Maybe,lets think for a second...maybe its because every single person on this site you lower his listed height by at least 1.5 inches.The fact that you said Jake was 175cm...Jonathan Ross 180cm?ARE YOU SERIOUS? The list you gave me also was a load of *beep* I'm aware of the fact that you and I are guessing but unlike you I'm actually trying to guess their REAL height and actually THINK for a second,rather than making everyone shorter just because It will make me feel better,assuming thats what you're doing."
After a series of false leads, host Starlee eventually gets Jake himself on the phone. He coyly admits to being 5'11½", closing the door not just on one listener's curiosity, but on a debate on the Celeb Heights site that has been raging since 2005. Moreover, this kind of debate is relatively typical of CelebHeights. We tend to think of height as something objective. It can be measured and verified, stamped on our driver's licenses charted in our mugshots. And yet, as the drama at CelebHeights shows, it's not that simple.
Even though most of us vary by just a few inches from each other, height is tied to our identity in a complicated way. Fashion magazines might recommend that woman over 5'6" wear a maxi dress, but women just two inches shorter should abstain, at risk of it being unflattering. We tend to vote for the taller candidate in presidential elections. Male CEOs tend to be an average of 6'0" — a few inches taller than the average population. Taller people earn more money (white men add a 1.8% increase in salary for every inch over average, according to one study).
The height issue seems to be, well, heightened, for men. The most hotly contested celebrities on the site are all men. A male friend of mine with a slight stature lamented to me how he often sees women write in their Tinder bios, "Swipe left if you're under 6'1"," which he finds deeply hurtful and unfair. We diagnose shorter men for having a "Napoleon complex" — judging their personalities purely by their physical appearance, something that might seem obviously wrong if it were about, say, women and weight. In short, sometimes height is worth fighting over. At least to some people.
CelebHeights has been around for more than a decade now. It's run by a guy named Rob Paul, 39, who lives just outside of Glasgow. Rob told me over email that his interest in height stemmed from age 14, when he hit 5'8" and stopped growing. His reason for starting the site was to fill a gaping hole he saw on the internet. "In 2004, no sites dedicated to discussing each and every celebrity height existed," Rob explained. "While a site like IMDb was flourishing, I felt a lot of the height information being put on the web was wildly off the mark … I figured CelebHeights would be a good repository, with entries controlled by one editor."
The site runs ads, but according to Rob, the ad revenue "isn't going to make me wealthy." But it's still a full-time job. For example, there are a lot of conventions to attend, which can be a perk. "I once travelled to a convention in Blackpool, England, and met a girl from my hometown who was attending the same convention. We hit it off, and eight years later, we're still together," Rob said.
While a site like IMDb was flourishing, I felt a lot of the height information being put on the web was wildly off the mark...
The most-searched celebrity on the site is Justin Bieber; the most hotly debated is Tom Cruise (Rob estimates there have been over 10,000 comments on the Tom Cruise entry). As for his white whales, "I'd love to figure out, once and for all, the true heights of Arnie and Sly. Just when we think we've nailed these stars to within a fraction, they throw a curveball at us and begin to grow and shrink before our very eyes."
What separates CelebHeights from mere imitators is Rob's dedication to factual and empirical evidence. He doesn't just use quotes from interviews (Jake Gyllenhaal had previously claimed to be 6'0" to the press, keep in mind), or just estimates from photos. He puts in the boots-on-the-ground legwork by attending fan conventions where he can get a photo standing next to a celeb, so he can compare his known height to their speculative stature.
Because Rob knows he's firmly 5'8", he can estimate with more accuracy how tall a celeb is compared with himself. But even a photo can be confusing to the commenters. For example, Rob got a photo standing next to the actor Will Patton at a convention, but Patton's stature is still hotly debated. Someone noticed Will's sneakers might be taller, giving him "shoe advantage." Another noted, "Saw him with what I'm guessing was his family in the Seattle Space Needle ages ago, yeah from vague recollection I thought maybe 5'9.5"-5'10" range."
Commenters to the site frequently mention "morning height" versus evening height. It's quite normal for the human body to shrink a little during the day, as your spine compresses due to gravity. Your peak tallness is first thing in the morning, and you get shorter throughout the day. This adds a layer of complication when trying to determine height based only on photos of the person, since it can cause apparent height fluctuation, and you don't know what time the photo was taken. For the entry of Liam Neeson (CelebHeights pegs him at 6'3.5", but 6'4" at his peak height), a commenter describes the nuance of the time of day: "No way is neeson 194-195cm in 2012 maybe at lunchtime at his peak he would have been that range in the morning. These days looks 192cm."
Just like any other online community, CelebHeights has its share of flame wars and trolls. But none of the commenting drama compares to what Rob calls "The Big Grapple": the great schism of the celebrity height discussion. Tucked a few links deep into the site is a page devoted to The Big Grapple, telling the tale in deep detail over almost 6,000 words (about three times the length of the article you're reading right now).
Glenn Cunningham had been a welcome contributor to the site, thanks to his ability to post photographs of himself with celebrities for height verification. Glenn worked in entertainment memorabilia and occasionally on film sets, giving him access to celebrities in the flesh. He wasn't particularly a height enthusiast at first, but he saw that people on the site enjoyed when he could share the photos with various celebs that he had taken while he worked on film sets or other means. "Height is not why I got involved with celebs. Work was," he told me over text.
There's a certain type of person who downplays a celeb's height to make themselves feel better about whatever shortcomings they may have.
Due to constant flame wars in the comments, Glenn's relationship to the site soured, and by 2008 Rob banned him. According to Glenn, Rob is "obsessive and let so many trolls attack on that site that I became verbally abusive to them. I had followers that backed me, but I was provoked."
Glenn says that Rob estimates celebrities to be shorter than they actually are. "There's a certain type of person who downplays a celeb's height to make themselves feel better about whatever shortcomings they may have," said Glenn. At one point he believed the axiom that all celebrity men are two inches shorter than they claim to be. But after meeting so many in person, Glenn realized this isn't true. "Celebs are usually what they claim they are, and hidden shoe lifts [which many commenters suspect celebs are wearing] are only for Cruise, Downey Jr., and Pitt."
Basically, Glenn was estimating celebrities he met were slightly taller than Rob believes they were. Rob suspected this was because Glenn was lying about his own height and was actually shorter than the 5'8" he claimed.
In 2009, Rob went to New York City for a vacation and brought his stadiometer, a device for accurately measuring height. He reached out to Glenn over email under the guise of an olive branch, asking to meet up while he was there. When Glenn arrived at Rob's hotel room, Rob ushered him toward the stadiometer. Glenn had always claimed to be 5'8" even. Glenn explains that this is his morning height — his tallest when he gets out of bed. However, this was 6 p.m., and Glenn had been up for 12 hours, his spine compressing and shrinking. Lo and behold, the device measured Glenn at a mere 5'6.75". Rob took a particular glee in this, and wrote in his story:
Immediately he had to have a look himself. With intense scrutiny in his eyes and utter shock coursing through his body, he had faced the stadiometer and been measured 1 and 1/3rd inch shy of 5ft 8. The word devastated was brought up, and no wonder. Nobody wants to be measured smaller than they think they are. A fraction maybe, but over an inch? Unbelievable.
Measuring Glenn to be shorter than he had claimed now vindicated Rob, who could point to any photo of Glenn standing next to a celebrity and say that Glenn had overestimated their height. He wrote:
What would the visitors to the site say? How would it be broken to them? His enemies would revel in the knowledge that they were right all along. Deep down, he probably knew he was finished on the site. How would he be able to say he was 5'8" when he'd been measured under 5'6.75"?
The next day, Glenn came back to Rob's hotel to be measured again. There is some grey area here about whether or not Glenn was able to take a quick nap in his car before the measuring to regain a little of that morning height.
This time, Glenn clocked in at few millimeters over 5'7".
They waited another 15 minutes, and re-measured. This time he was a few millimeters under 5'7", apparently his spine compressing just even in that short time.
Glenn maintains that he is 5'8" at peak morning height. "Why would I lie and embarrass myself to the world? Either way, it was a mistake to meet that jerk," he told me over text. Rob hasn't exactly let it go, either. He recently posted a video to YouTube doing a fake ad for "Big G Super Tape" — a measuring tape that would make you be two inches taller — with Glenn's face on it.
"Glenn isn't the first contributor who I've had problems with," Rob told me. "On one occasion a visitor emailed me a photo of themselves with an actor they wanted to show on the site with only one caveat: I had to photoshop the picture...not to make themselves taller, but to give him a digital hairpiece."
Although Jake Gyllenhaal eventually self-reported his height to Mystery Show, Rob does not consider the matter totally closed. "Until someone is measured, I guess the arguments won't stop. Maybe Jake should take up the offer. My stadiometer has travelled to New York once before..."