Taking Up Space

I am at La Guardia airport, leaving after spending a week in New York City.  It has been an incredible experience. I watched my Best Friend graduate from NYU at Yankee Stadium (I’m so proud of him that I could burst), and got to hear Bill Clinton speak (and he gave a great speech).  I got to do a workshop with the ever fabulous Golda Poretsky of Body Love Wellness,  at the ever famous Re/Dress plus-sized clothing store in Brooklyn. I got to see all kinds of neighborhoods in NYC that you wouldn’t see as a typical tourist. Got to spend a ton of time with my BF and his boyfriend just relaxing and hanging out which I rarely get to do.

But one of the reasons that I am happy to go back to Texas is space and the taking up of it by me. NYC, while amazing in many ways, does not suit me.  It seems to be an increcible city largely based on inconvenient travel, strangers touching and jostling you, and trying to occupy as little space as possible.  During my week here I had multiple experiences on trains and subways (sometimes very crowded ones) and I noticed that space is at a premium and people try to take up as little as possible – hunching over, collapsing their chests, abandoning their posture.  Nobody said anything about my size (or, at least, not to my face) but then again I never took a seat unless it was beside friends.  Things may have been different had I been sitting alone since I take up ALL of a seat and so someone sitting next to me would be stuck touching me (which I wouldn’t enjoy either, part of the reason that I chose to stand).

What makes this more interesting is a discussion that I had with a stranger on my way to NYC.  I was in the airport in Chicago standing on an escalator.  As I got off a woman said to me “I love the say that you stand. You just…take up space”.  Then a panicked look crossed her face and she stammered “I didn’t mean, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, I just…”. I cut her off and thanked her.  She said that I looked “regal”, thanked me for inspiring her and then walked on to her flight leaving me feeling super awesome.

This experience was with me as I watched people try to take up as little space as possible.  Maybe it’s because I’m a dancer or maybe it’s just me but a big part of feeling good about myself and happy in my body is standing up straight with good posture and that equates to taking up space. I do not apologize for the space I take up and I do not hesitate to make sure that my body has the space it needs (for example, as a short fat person often times if I sit in a booth in a restaurant the height is perfect to dig into my stomach as my boobs rest on the table.  Yeah…no.  I’m absolutely moving to a space that appropriately accommodates me. This is my body and space is it’s birthright and if you feel that it’s not fair that I take up more space than you, there is nothing stopping you from trying to get to my size or wearing a parka so we’ll be even.

This probably brings up the airplane discussion which I already talked about here.

I guess my point is that if you live in a place that encourages you to be small, or if you try to make yourself small as a way to deal with society, or it’s just a habit, that’s absolutely a valid choice.  But maybe consider looking for opportunities to just take up some space. Whether you take a trip to the country or just move the furniture in your living room, consider standing up straight, throwing your shoulders back, moving around and really loving taking up space.

Published in: on May 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm  Comments (14)  

14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It reminds me of one of my favorite walking/jogging songs, “Big and Chunky” from one of the “Madagascar” soundtracks…

    I love my lady
    She nice and shapely
    She nice and spacey
    Take so much space up
    Like a big ol’ spaceship
    Movin’ so gracious
    Yes
    It’s all in the way she moves

    • I LOVE this song. I actually did a showcase routine to it a couple years ago!

      ~Ragen

  2. Regal… what a wonderfully elegant comment. Glorious confidence and positive attitude bolstered and re-enforced by a stranger’s brave kindness. What an interesting world we would thrive in if everyone took the chance to stand up and breathe deep and live large. (physically,emotionally,mentally,joyously)

  3. Sorry to hear that you feel that way about NYC. I have learned to take a seat on the train. If there’s a space I make the “space hogs” shove over. Sometimes they give me a funny look but who cares! If I were 20 something, skinny and had long hair they’d have already made room for me. It’s like a game and it’s fun to watch. Something to do on a boring train ride. LOL

  4. Taking up space is actually one of my big things. A few years ago I wrote a little piece called “My Rights as a Woman at ANY Size.” One of the things I mention is that I have the right to take up as much space as my body needs.
    It really is funny how women (and even men) are encouraged to become thinner and thinner and take up less and less space. We need to be able to own our space and embrace the power it gives us (regardless of size).

  5. Studies have also shown that women are more likely to try and take up less space, while men take up more space by standing with their legs farther apart and so on.

    That is a freaking awesome compliment!

    And I always love returning to Texas from big cities (especially European cities), I can walk around again without running into people.

  6. I love this. Since I’m British, not only do I try to take up as little space as possible, I apologise profusely if someone else invades my space.

  7. “Regal” is such an amazing compliment! I’m totally going to remember that next time I feel the urge to take up less space.

    I was on a plane yesterday. It was teeny-tiny and I was totally leaning to one side, trying not to take up any more space than necessary. I was horrified that I couldn’t seem to make myself smaller and that I kept touching the elderly gentleman beside me. And then I realized, *he* was actually infringing on my space, sitting with his legs spread and his elbow claiming the arm rest. I straightened up in my seat and rode the rest of the way comfortably. Well, as comfortably as possible in a tiny airplane seat, pressed up against someone you don’t know.

    Anyway, I do think men in general try to take up more space without even thinking about it. Almost like a prehistoric, caveman need to display dominance. I even wrote a poem about it once. If you’re interested, you can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/3vfqx83

    • That poem is amazing!!!!! Thanks you so much for sharing it. Good for you for not just noticing this trend but also bucking it and then turning it into art. You kick so much ass.

      ~Ragen

  8. I love the attitude you have, but in practice, it isn’t so easy to just “be”. While no one said anything to you, plenty of bad behavior has been directed my way in the metropolis I reside in (not NY, but it’s equivalent in Asia). People react with overt disgust, make nasty comments, etc. To them, we each have a right to fit into the little box available and to take up more is to take more than your fair share.

    Putting up with the small space for a visit is one thing. Living with it for years and years makes it harder to just say, “I’ll take up the space that I require and everyone else can just live with it.” The drumbeat of overt disapproval wears you down.

    • Hi SFG,

      I think we just have a misunderstanding. I can understand how difficult it would be to live in place where space is at a premium. I wasn’t suggesting that people should put themselves in a position to be treated badly by taking up as much space as possible on a crowded subway if that doesn’t appeal to them. I was suggesting that, especially those whose environment encourages them to be small, people find opportunities to take up space – whether it’s at home in their living room or on a trip to the country. Make sense? Thanks for the comment.

      ~Ragen

    • SFG, were you by chance in South Korea? I spent 14 months there as a fat woman and WOW. It’s sad but living there gave me more appreciation for living here despite the flaws and the issues. We didn’t own a car so we often took the subway or the bus. It’s hard enough being in a foreign country. To be American in an Asian country is EXTREMELY difficult. Where I was, foreigners are not always accepted and so you’re already made to feel like you’re lower than dirt. Many Koreans actually will not sit next to a foreigner if they can absolutely help it. Being obese over there was not easy (and even worse, I got pregnant while I was there but that’s another story entirely). I remember one time I was sitting next to this older woman and she looked at my legs and looked at me and was like, “Big legs!”. I was kind of embarrassed but just sort of smiled. It’s a different world over there and they’re still kind of behind us in a lot of civil rights issues (for example, you do NOT want to be disabled over there; a lot of places are simply not equipped for the disabled though it is getting better). I do remember at times hunching as small as possible so as not take up too much space but most of the time at least I could get away with sitting with my husband and daughter who are both much smaller than I am. My husband is actually small for an American male (and has his own issues because of that) but average compared to Korean men.

  9. I try to take up less space on planes a lot. And I did the same this, my last, year in college just because the new desks were terrible and there was no space for a thin person to move between desks let alone a fat person (I didn’t hear one good thing about the desks from anyone). In airports normally I’m too tired and nauseous to be regal…more likely I’m gonna stretch out on the floor and crash hard.
    I totally love the compliment that lady gave you! It makes me all sorts of happy!

    By nature bodies take up space, we have mass therefore we take up space. More mass, more space…atleast I think that’s how it’s supposed to go…may not be entirely true…I was not a science major!

  10. Interesting topic. I was at a dinner in Europe and I suddenly realised why Americans are always called ‘loud Americans’ even though, usually, they’re not vocally loud. It’s because Americans (and English speakers in general) take up more space. I can’t explain it, but Europeans in general draw themselves inward, while Americans and other English speakers radiate towards the outside. There’s a bigger halo of space around them.

    I don’t think it always has to do with self confidence, but with actual space. If you come from somewhere crowded, you learn to live in a smaller space, whereas if you come from somewhere with wide open spaces, you get upset if people come too close.


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