Is there a term for different body types among extremely tall people

There seem to be at least two kinds of tall people.

  1. People who are well proportioned and just look like taller versions of normal sized people. People like Shaquille o Neal.

  2. People who are extremely thin with very long legs and arms. People like Manute bol.

Are there terms for these body types? Do scientists know why some tall people have one type or another?

I’m not sure what the terms are, though I am sure there are some. But I have seen more than a couple people in public or that I knew personally that I suspected had Marfan Syndrome based on their build and some other physical characteristics, they sort of have an alien look to them especially their hands and also really tall with disproportionately long limbs compared to their torso.

Genetics mainly, with some nutrition and exercise thrown in. These two will affect shoulder-waist-hip ratios but won’t turn a Masai into someone twice his brothers’ width, nor a Basque Big Boy into the Masai’s paler version.

I had an interesting page bookmarked which I can’t find right now discussing the various causes and resulting types of giants (or very large people not-quite earning the giant label). IIRC the difference in proportions you see among very large people has to do with when their pituitary was over active and to what degree.

The body proportions are impacted depending if you do a lot of growth as a child, or maybe during puberty, and also when the growth slows down. Obviously the extreme cases of acromegaly involve the pituitary never slowing the release of growth hormone so you see bone growth continue after the growth plates have hardened off giving bad consequences. But there’s a lot of variations below that level… and I imagine the causes of higher than normal growth hormone production can be medical or just genetic. One guy I work with stood 6’5 and weighed 260lbs at 14 years old… but he only grew another half-inch or so since. He’s got normal proportions and is very athletic; almost made the Olympic bobsled team.

Depending on the timing and amount of growth hormone produced, you can end up severely disproportioned and quite feeble as a result, or if you get the “right” amount you end up like Shaq and have normal or even above average athletic ability and proportions while being 50% larger than the average person.

Note that 50% larger in volume or mass, a three dimensional measure, is roughly equivalent to a much smaller one-dimensional increase.

1.5^(1/3) ~= 1.1447

So a 14% increase in height, roughly 1 in 7. So instead of 70 inches, 80 inches. Roughly.

Yes I quickly worked out his height at about 7 feet and a normal-ish guy at about 6 feet… (7/6)^3 = 1.58 then rounded that down to 1.5x the mass.

Shaq should actually be larger yet than the average guy of the same proportions… he’s 7’1 and the average guy is closer to 5’9. So, (85/69)^3 = 1.869 or about 87% more massive. He weighs 325, so if you scaled him down to 5’9 he’d weigh about 174, which is close to what the average guy that height should weigh based on ideal body mass calculations. Of course, Google tells me the average American man weighs more like 195 but then again the average guy isn’t in NBA level athletic condition.

Found the page I had bookmarked. It’s actually a message board but go down to post #7 by Never Wrong. I don’t know if the guy is correct or an expert, but he seems insightful on the topic. Here’s a quote:

There’s a fair bit more and a link to another discussion, and also talk about pathological giants and terms used for various body types and features.

I’ve been clicking on this thread since it first appeared. Trying to calm down so I could post a less-emotional response but it is really, really hard.

“… taller versions of normal sized people.”

Egad. What a …, grrrr.

It’s like calling small people not normal. Grrr.

I have a relative who was president of the national tall persons club. They would get really unhappy about such comments.

Tall people are normal sized. They are not average sized. Saying someone is not normal has deep negative implications.

And then it just goes on. The OP mentions two standard somatotypes: mesomorphic and ectomorphic but somehow fails to mention the third type: endomorphic.

Yes, I’ve met heavy, “rounded” tall people. It’s like tall people are … normal.

Short, tall, medium- those are the three basic body type labels that have been around for a long time. Height has little to do with it. Barring medical conditions (regardless of height), people are just going to have a range of body shapes.

Some medical conditions (not always height related) are going to cause certain body shapes. But one should not take the contrapositive and imply that tallness is a medical condition.

(Note that somatotypes are considered a useless and outdated classification system by many.)

I’d suggest you step back and take a breath. We’re talking about anthropometry and epidemiology. Real words, just like “normal,” which have a real and, well, normal meaning.

He’s right. Being tall does not make your proportions abnormal. Tall people as described in the OP have the same body types as average sized people, they are just taller.

Height shaming?

I stand corrected, as to, and if, ftg is referring to body types and proportions. Which is OP.

But the tone and defensiveness in ftg here against so-called “height shaming” (so-called by kayaker, for one :))–ie, “If someone asks me ‘how’s the weather up’ one more time…”–is what I was responding to.

kayaker brought up height shaming. “How’s the weather” is just an annoying unoriginal and frequent comment that could easily make a tall person a little sensitive to being referred to as abnormal. And that’s part of the premise of the OP, unintentionally I assume, that tall people have different body types than people of average height.

I don’t think we need to start using the term People of Height though.


Just commenting that “normal” in the context of statistics is a, and the, perfectly correct and gloriously irreproachable term, at least until the PC crowd somehow decides to make hash with that.

Take a deep breath folks.

Yes, MOST tall people are normal people. They just happen to be on the tall end of what is considered normal, the tall end of the height range of human beings. There’s nothing pathological about their situation even if they are taller than 99% of the rest of humanity.

There there are people for who DO have a medical condition that, among other things, results in greater than normal height.

As examples: Christopher Lee was 6 foot 5 (195 cm) which is definitely very tall, but he was perfectly normal. In fact, given he lived to be 93, arguably he was more “normal” than average, or at least healthier than average, nothing pathological there. Shaquille O’Neal (7 foot 1/215 cm) is likewise very tall but seems to entirely lack any problems from it, other than trying to find clothes and cars to fit him. Both those men are normal men who are just tall.

On the other hand, people like Andre the Giant (7 foot 4/ 223 cm) and Richard Kiel (7 foot 1.5/217 cm) are NOT normal. Kiel suffered on-going bone growth that altered his features as he aged in a way that was not normal. Andre died at the young age of 46 due to heart failure. Neither of those guys were normal, and what ailed them also had a lot to do with them being so tall. On the other hand, mentally they were normal guys. Socially they certainly tried to be normal, even if they had careers that put them in the limelight they sought some privacy, had intimate relations, fathered children, and in a lot of respects were very normal people even if they were different in some very visible ways.

So yeah, most tall people, even very tall people, are tall just because of a convergence of genes leading to more rather than less height. But there is a subset of people who are very tall for reasons having to do with a biological malfunction, one symptom of which is extreme height. We even have terms for these conditions, like “pituitary giant” and “acromegaly”.

It’s rather like the opposite extreme with short men. Tom Cruise is a short guy, but he’s a normal guy and there’s nothing pathological there. He’s just short, probably because the genes for height he inherited tend to give less rather than more. On the other hand, Peter Dinklage is not normal. He’s short because of a medical disorder that has impacts beyond just lack of height. So yeah, most short people are short because that’s their genes, but a subset of short people are short due to medical problems. And we have very specific terms for that sort of thing as well. And, again, someone like Dinklage IS a very normal guy in some respects, having a social life, getting married, having kids… probably mows his own lawn on the weekends (when he’s not away on a film project), watches TV, etc.

I agree, saying someone is “not normal” is a minefield. Even when people do have a medical condition - such as Kiel or Dinklage - we should be mindful of how we refer to it. Words are often laden with emotional baggage.

So, to return to the OP…

As noted, a really much improved way of asking this question is to say “average sized people”. Or just “are well proportioned, but very tall, more so than average”. As noted, it’s entirely “normal” to be tall. The average Dutch person is taller than the average French person but they’re all perfectly normal people.

That is called an “ectomorph” although I’m not sure that term is popular these days. It’s part of a guy named Sheldon’s “somatotypes” which were not only described in physical terms but assumed to have psychological traits as well. Thus, “ectomorphs” were supposedly not only tall and lanky but cerebral and fearful. “Mesomorphs” were muscular, but also supposed to be prone to action and risk-taking. “Endomorph” were, for lack of a better term, pudgy and while supposedly sociable also prone to indulging in things like a lot of food. If he had just left it to physical descriptions (lean, muscular, pudgy) it might not have been so bad but really there was all sorts of cultural baggage and assumptions with that.

Yep, see above.

Yeah. Mostly, it’s ancestry. Manute Bol, for example, was a Dinka. They are ALL lean and lanky with long limbs compared to their torsos regardless of whether they are 7 feet plus like Manute or 5 feet tall. What you see as unusual is actually normal/typical/average for Dinka.

Different ethnic groups tend towards different limb-to-torso ratios, skeletal features, body fat distribution, and so forth. It’s why forensic examiners can look at someone’s skull and/or skeleton and say “mostly Asian ancestry” or “mostly European” or “mostly African” or “this person is a mix”. (They can also say things like “based on this skull the person was male, mostly European, probably over 60 years of age when he died, and suffered from achondroplasia”). Muscles leave marks on the skeleton, so after death it can be determined if someone was heavily muscled in life or not so much. But a Dinka such as Bol will always have long limbs compared to his torso regardless of how much he may bulk up his muscles in life, or whether or not he eats himself into obesity. Someone of Nordic descent is always going to have relatively shorter limbs/torso ratio compared to a Dinka no matter how carefully he diets or how athletic he is.

So… the basic body proportions you have are a gift from your ancestors. How tall you are is based on your genes. Sometimes a person is very tall (or very short) due to medical conditions, but that’s not the usual case. Even when there is a medical condition involved, a persons ancestry will still affect their proportions.

I think this is the most factually correct answer.

An ectomorph is a naturally “skinny” / “bony” person, irrespective of height. Manute Bol is simply an extreme example, made more stark by his great height.

An endomorph is a naturally “heavy” / “chunky” person, again without regard to height. They include people that fit the common parlance of “big boned” and shop at the Big & Tall store. They also include short, squat people that are sometimes said to look like fire hydrants.

A mesomorph is the naturally lean and muscular person. These are the people the rest of us tend to envy, because they are usually thought to be the best proportioned, whether they are short or very tall. In the OP’s example, Shaq is the mesomorph.

(Note, though, that these are not rigid categories, and people tend to lean towards either the ectomorphic or endomorphic scale. Shaq, for example, could easily put on weight and look “soft”, suggesting that he is more endo-mesomorphic. Arnold Schwazenegger, on the other hand, has described himself as ecto-mesomorphic; although he obviously had no issues with putting on muscle, he has said he was a naturally skinny kid before he started lifting weights.

Whoops I guess.

Among short people, some people have dwarfish so their arms and legs are shorter than average. Other very short people are proportioned so that they look like a miniature version of an average height person.

The same happens with tall people. Some are average proprotioned, but some have extra long legs and arms.

I’m curious as to the biological and genetic distinctions, or if there are other kinds of extra tall people.

Supposedly there are 200+ different kinds of dwarfism, but I don’t know if extremely tall people have different classifications.

Personally I’m almost 2 SD above average in height, but never felt offended if someone referred to the average height as normal. Being tall isn’t something that is generally stigmatized the way being short is.

While that is true for men I’d say very tall women do experience stigmatization and bias.