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No More Shrinking Women

Becca Clegg

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to take up space - literally, and figuratively.

It’s not news to any of you that women spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make their bodies smaller. We want our thighs slimmer, our hips narrower, and our tummies flatter.  We want the number on the scale to be less. We want our dress size to shrink. The message is clear – smaller is better.  No doubt about it.

Psychology 101 teaches that one of the most powerful forms of teaching is modeling.  In a world where the literal model that a woman sees portrayed as “ideal” is often a size 00 (because a 0 isn’t small enough), is it any surprise that women subconsciously fear taking up too much space?

I know from my own experiences with dieting that smaller was always better.  It wasn’t really stated overtly, but it was very much so understood.  I had that message reflected back to me by peers, media, and the general cultural norm. In other words, it wasn’t just me.

Since that time, I’ve experienced this phenomenon with many of the women I have helped heal their relationship with food.  They come to me afraid of their own desires, wants and needs.  Many of them are so used to ignoring their own hunger that it never dawns on them that they have the right, let alone the necessity, to feed their hunger and put their own needs first.

So is it any wonder that many women also struggle to take up space in their own lives?

Taking up space in your life means being willing to claim your space at the table (as you can tell, I love nothing more than a great food/life metaphor).  It means that you recognize that you have a voice, an opinion, needs, wants, and desires that all matter equal to that of anyone in your life. 

Unfortunately, I hear this type of thinking all too often:

·      I don’t want to be a burden

·      I don’t want to trouble them/you

·      I don’t want to be high maintenance

·      I don’t want to upset anyone

·      I don’t want to cause conflict

·      I don’t want to inconvenience anyone

Underneath that thinking there is often the basic fear – “I am afraid that I am too much.”  The twin-brother of that fear is the opposite fear – “I am afraid that I am not enough”. But in my book, they are born of the same place.  It’s a fear that there is something wrong with us as we are, and so we shrink ourselves, our bodies and our desires, lest we reveal to the world that which we fear may be defective.

Our bodies and our lives are inextricably linked.  We cannot pretend that they don’t parallel one another.  When someone feels good about their body, their self esteem increases. When someone feels healthy and energetic, they feel more motivated to engage in their own life. In world where we are encouraged to chase the mighty dream of making our body be size 0, is it any surprise that women are too comfortable playing small and letting someone else claim the space that might rightly be theirs?

Well, I’m here to ask you, what is TOO much anyway?  What is NOT ENOUGH?  Who defines this number?  Does an objective truth for this measure really exist?

I recently ran across this poetry slam where a young woman speaks to the shrinking of women in a way that I cannot (she’s amazing…and my idea of a poem starts with Roses are red…).  Take a second (ok, three minutes and thirty three minutes) to check it out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQucWXWXp3k

Our lives – our needs - are meant to take up space. 

Our bodies - our beautiful and sacred bodies - were designed to take up space. 

I believe each of us was born with equal rights to equal amounts.  What we end up with often times has a lot to do with what we believe we deserve.  Please question whether or not you might be following the false belief that you are supposed to play small; it isn’t serving you or the world.

Marianne Williamson says it best:

“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

All right, ladies – let’s start liberating!