National Eating Disorders Association
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Claim Your Space

Becca Clegg, MS, NCC

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

I am a therapist, and I specialize in women’s issues; therefore, this topic leads me to think about women and the cultural messages we receive about claiming space in the world. I use female pronouns and refer to women as a result, but rest assured that anyone could relate to this concept. 

Taking up space is about knowing our worth, and overcoming beliefs we have become attached to that erroneously tell that we don’t deserve to claim our space in the world. Claiming your space defies gender. Claiming your space about refusing to be oppressed in our humanity.

It’s not news to any of you that women spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make their bodies smaller. We have all heard the messages. Make your thighs slimmer, your hips narrower, and your tummies flatter. Make your weight less. Make your dress size shrink. The message is clear – less is more and smaller is better. 

Psychology 101 teaches that one of the most dominant forms of teaching is modeling. In a world where the actual model that a woman sees portrayed as “ideal” is unhealthy and literally shrinking, is it any surprise that women subconsciously fear taking up too much space?

But have you ever stopped to ask why? Why do we receive this message that we must play small and be small? The answer is oppression, which is the state of being subject to unjust treatment or control.

As long as we are playing small, others can claim our space or that which is ours by right. As long as we hate our bodies, people can sell products to “help us” improve, and get more by way of profits. They need us to hate our bodies in order to keep us buying and consuming their goods.

As long as we are afraid to claim our space, others can maintain a power balance that is exclusive and limited to only a certain few. If they control how we feel about ourselves, they, in turn, control us. 

Naomi Wolfe, author of the Beauty Myth, states, “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” 

In my practice, I’ve experienced the fallout of this oppression in the stories of the women I help. They come to me afraid of their desires, wants, and needs. Many of them are so used to ignoring their hunger that it never dawns on them that they have the right, let alone the necessity, to feed their desires and put their needs first.

Taking up space in your life means being willing to claim your space in the world. It means that you recognize that you have a voice, an opinion, needs, wants and desires that all matter equal to that of anyone else in this world.  

Unfortunately, I hear this thinking too often:

•    I don’t want to be a burden.

•    I don’t want to trouble anyone.

•    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 underlying fear – “I am afraid that I am too much.” The inverse of that fear is the opposite – “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, and so we shrink ourselves, our bodies and our desires, lest we reveal to the world that which we fear may be defective.

Well, I’m here to ask you, what is too much anyway? What is not enough? Who defines these things? Does an objective truth for this measure even exist?

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

I believe each of us was born with equal rights to equal amounts. What we end up with often has a lot to do with what we think 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, author (and wise woman) 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. 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."

Becca Clegg is a psychotherapist; writer and speaker specializing in helping women overcome unhealthy eating patterns and body image issues. Becca has an active private therapy practice in Atlanta, GA, and is also is the President and Co-founder of CHI - Creative Health Initiatives - A Center for Mind + Body Wisdom. CHI offers therapy groups and self-development programs to women in transition, recovery, and those seeking a deeper connection with their spirit. 

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