“Accept each other as you are” : world’s tallest woman fights for recognition of outsiders

2.15 meters – the Turkish woman Rumeysa Gelgi is also officially the tallest woman in the world. She is passionate about advocating for people who fall outside the norm.

Rumeysa Gelgi with her mother

As a child, Rumeysa Gelgi was often mocked; today she has to endure bullying on the Internet. The 24-year-old Turkish woman from Safranbolu on the Black Sea has been unusually tall since birth due to a rare genetic disorder, has never been able to go to school and to this day can only walk with a walker, but she doesn’t let it get her down.

With a height of 2.15 meters and shoe size 51 Gelgi has now been declared the tallest woman in the world by the Guinness Book of Records. Gelgi wants to use her fame to encourage other people who fall outside the social norm: "Accept each other as you are," she says – an unusual appeal in a country where people with physical or mental disabilities are often hidden away.

Gelgi suffers from Weaver syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes excessive body growth. By her own account, she is the first Turkish woman with the syndrome; there are only 27 cases in the entire world, according to the report. Even as a toddler, Gelgi had to undergo frequent surgeries; she did not learn to walk until she was five years old, but she needed a support from the very beginning. Thanks to medical interventions, she now has her disease under control to the extent that she can cope with it: "I’m not growing any more," she cheered on her website. "My condition is stable."

Life has never been easy for Gelgi. She couldn’t go to school, but her parents made sure she was home-schooled. Her shoes are custom-made orthopedic devices, and she has to have her clothes shipped in from America, she told the Sabah newspaper.

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She is mostly in a wheelchair and had to use a walking frame to stand up to be measured by an envoy to the Guinness Book of Records. During the corona pandemic, she trained as a web designer via online correspondence course, fulfilling a childhood dream, as she says.

Gelgi has become accustomed to public attention because of her height. Seven years ago she was proclaimed the tallest girl in the world – at the time she was just under 2.14 meters tall. Now followed the record as the tallest living woman in the world. The world’s tallest man, 2.51-meter Sultan Kosen, is also from Turkey. Kosen’s super growth has another reason though, he has a brain tumor.

Never put away

Gelgi stresses in interviews that her parents never locked her away at home, but regularly took her out for outings. "Instead of putting me under a glass bell jar, they put me out among the people," she told "Sabah". She has never heard a nasty word from anyone in her immediate environment.

Perhaps it is thanks to this education that she is now a self-confident young woman who stands by her body. "I have never felt like a sick person," she says. Gelgi instead describes herself as a "special, extraordinary and chosen individual". She lists going to restaurants with friends and relatives as one of her hobbies. "My family has always supported me and is proud that I have this new title," Gelgi said in a video released by Guinness Book Publishers.

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This is not a matter of course for Turkey. Because a disability is often perceived as a disgrace or even a punishment from God, many families hide their physically or mentally disabled relatives from the public eye. According to estimates by EyDer, an association for the disabled, up to nine million people with physical or mental impairments live in Turkey. That would be more than one in ten Turks, but disabled people are rarely seen on the streets. Hundreds of thousands are not let out the door by their families, according to activists.

Breaking a taboo

That’s why it was a taboo when the politician Safak Pavey was elected to the Turkish parliament ten years ago. Pavey, who lost her left arm and leg in a train accident, wasn’t thinking about hiding out. Her entrance into parliament sparked heated debates: At the time, female politicians had to wear a skirt or dress in the House, which made Pavey’s prosthetic leg visible to all. With a hasty amendment to the Rules of Procedure, female deputies were then allowed to wear pants – Pavey should be able to hide her prosthesis. She wore skirts anyway.

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Gelgi also wants to encourage people who do not conform physically or mentally to the norm. "Being different isn’t so bad," she said in the Guinness video. "You can turn a disability into an advantage."

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