Have the courage to make the changes YOU deserve!
How Do You Feel About Taking Up Space?
Do you ever feel like you shrink yourself? You might do this literally, shifting yourself to the edge of a shared seat on the bus so a fellow passenger can spread their legs as wide as they like. Or you might do it figuratively. For example, by allowing a co-worker’s interruption to go unchallenged.
‘For so long, to be a woman has meant to fold into yourself, to make room for others, literally and figuratively. Men manspread; women cross their legs.’ – Danielle Friedman
Taking up space is tied to being visible. You have to be visible in order to take up space, and you have to take up space to be visible. Through my work, I’ve realised many women struggle with this. Common issues like imposter syndrome and self-sabotage are often symptoms of an underlying, subconscious reluctance to take up space.
What’s Wrong with Staying Small?
When we shrink ourselves, when we refuse to put ourselves out there because we don’t think we deserve to take up space, we risk missing out on countless opportunities. If we’re pursuing a passion or building a career we love, we also jeopardise our own happiness and fulfilment.
What Does ‘Taking Up Space’ Mean?
In simple terms, taking up space means giving yourself permission to show up authentically on your own terms. It’s resisting the pressure to stay small by hiding parts of yourself or attempting to make yourself more palatable.
This habit can show up subconsciously in so many ways. For example, you might shy away from negotiation or let other people talk over you at work. Perhaps you avoid conflict at all costs, making yourself small to accommodate other people’s needs. Maybe it’s as simple as never showing your face on Instagram.
Why is it Such a Common Issue?
This tendency to keep ourselves small doesn’t come from nowhere. It’s an understandable response to messages we receive about our identity throughout our lives.
Women are socialised to not only keep themselves physically small, but also to be well-behaved and well-mannered in a way that men aren’t. If we look back throughout history, it’s only very recently that women have been allowed to take up space in society more generally. In the UK, we’ve only had full universal suffrage (where all adult citizens have the right to vote in elections) since 1928. Up until 1980, women were not allowed to apply for a loan or credit in their own name. Even if they earned more, they had to get their father or husband to sign for it. Prior to 1982, bars and pubs had the right to refuse to serve women.
I could go on and on. The point I’m making is that our feelings about taking up space are bigger than our individual experiences. If you belong to a marginalised group – for example, if you’re a person of colour, disabled or LGBTQ – you’ll have an additional, complex layer of identity to contend with. Don’t be hard on yourself when your resistance shows up. There’s a lot to unpack.
How to Start Taking Up Space
‘Take up space, Don’t wait for permission or approval, Don’t let ghostly question marks, haunt the ends of your sentences… Push at the brackets choking your voice, Your potential cannot be pressed, Between thumb and forefinger anymore, Take up space’ – Take Up Space, Vanessa Kisuule
Journal it Out
As I’ve said before, getting your thoughts down on paper is one of the best ways to be more objective about them. If you notice yourself staying small, ask yourself why? Who is benefitting? Use your journal to challenge this habit. Why do you deserve to take up space? What would life look like if you stopped shrinking yourself?
Practice with Friends
We all have at least a few people in our lives who make it easier to be our authentic selves. They’re usually the friends we feel most comfortable sharing our emotions with. Use the safe space created when you’re with them to exercise your ‘taking up space’ muscle. Explain that you need to get some things off your chest and would like to take up some space to do so.
The next step is to challenge yourself in small ways to start taking up more space in public. This could involve anything from meeting other people’s gazes, speaking up in a meeting or showing your face on Instagram Stories. The important thing to remember is that it’s OK to do this at your own pace. You might experience some discomfort or anxiety at first, but over time it will start to feel more normal. Those feelings aren’t a reason to shrink yourself, they’re a sign you’re moving in the right direction. Repeat after me: you deserve to take up space.
If You Do One Thing This Week…
Spend some time reflecting on your habits and behaviours, especially in the workplace. Can you spot any examples of staying small? How does shrinking yourself make you feel in the moment? What could you do differently next time?
- Take Up Space by Vanessa Kisuule for the BBC
- What Happens When Women Start Taking Up Space?
- How 7 Women Take Up Space in Their Everyday Lives
- How to Make Yourself Heard in Meetings