I have a small frame and am interested in hitting the gym to tone up and gain some muscle and to stay fit in general. My concern is that I am very short (5'4"/5'5"ish) and I don't want it to seem like I am trying to overcompensate for my lack of height by gaining muscle. I don't want to put on a lot of muscle, just an average amount so I don't look too stocky. Will it look like I'm trying to overcompensate? If yes, how can I avoid the stereotype?
People say actually that it is tougher for a shorter guy to gain muscle with weight training because their range of motion is shorter for their repetitions but that's nothing to worry about.
If you don't want to look like you're "overcompensating" just never mention your muscle gains to people. Only mention the gym if someone asks what you did today and leave it at "Yea I was just workin out today" and don't volunteer anymore information unless they ask. The overcompensating people are the bragging people who keep showing off. Other than that, nothing to worry about with the overcompensating.
Sounds like you're looking to get lean and toned which is no problem. You'd have to really workout at least a year or more to have any worries about the "too big" look.
You could tone up and get a six-pack, get a high paying job or a business, a Vacheron Constantin watch, a Ferrari and a trophy girlfriend, and you could be SURE people would look at you and say "look at that 5ft5 gnome overcompensating" - and the funny thing is, whether they are right or wrong does not matter because at the end of the day you have a six-pack, a high end occupation, a Vacheron Constantin watch, a Ferrari and a trophy girlfriend.
Why are you worrying what others will think of you?
Just hit the gym, and put out. Wear a sweater with sunglasses if you have to.
Thick forearms, Wide upperback, and thick calves will give an illusion that you are tall.
Trust me, work on your calves and legs if you want others to think as if your tall. I'm 5'11, and I'm gifted with big calves and legs that are proportional to my upperbody and arms. Some people have said to me that I look like I'm 6'3 far away.
Don't worry about what others think. You're going to the gym to better yourself, so go for it. There's not reason not to.
If you don't want to put on a lot of muscle, you won't. It's not as easy as you think. It takes a lot of discipline/effort. But at your height, gaining 10 pounds of muscle will look way more dramatic than a guy who is 6+ inches taller. Short guys have the advantage when it comes to bodybuilding IMO.
Avoid the stereotype by wearing clothes that don't show off the muscles. Basically just have the same movements you have right now. Don't puff out your chest or walk like you're pressing basketballs against your ribs with your arms. To be honest I think the stereotype applies more to white guys so if that's you in the pic, you shouldn't really worry about any of that.