I’m setting out to take up more space in 2018, and I want you to join me. Consider this the rally cry.
I’m your William Wallace, but female…and without the face paint.
If you’re relatively new to my community, let me fill you in on some back story…
From my childhood until my early 30s, two predominant feelings constantly nagged at me:
1) My body was always too big, and therefore,
2) I was unlovable.
Why not just put the deep and personal stuff right up front, eh?
Growing Up as “The Fat One”
While I can’t point to any singular event that caused these feelings, there was, to my perception*, a constant stream of experiences that told me my body was bad like…
- My stepdad calling me “the fat one”
- Starting puberty before any of my classmates
- Being a nerdy, bookworm, perfectionist type which earned me the loathing of my peers
- Not having the string bean body types of my siblings
*Memories are notoriously poor and I’m sure much of this was not exactly what happened even though it felt damn real.
Here’s a pubescent 10 or 11 year old me (left) with my kid sisters while on summer vacation in Maine. Sweet headgear! Don’t worry…I didn’t wear it to school.
In any case, once I was squarely in my teen years, I was acutely aware that something about my body was different. I guess you could say I was just thick…
…and I did lots of sports – soccer, track and tae kwon do – so my weight was “under control”, but my eating habits were terrible. If it was sugary, it went in my mouth. As soon as I stopped sports in my senior year, the weight piled on and I had no energy.
Yay, Diets! (Said Nobody Ever.)
So when I was in my early 20s, I started my first real dalliance with diets and exercise with the sole intention of losing weight. My mission became to eat as little as possible – those sugaryAF 100 calorie snack packs were okay though because #lowfat – and do all the cardio.
I remember dragging myself out of bed at 5 am for spin class despite going to college full-time, working 25 hours a week, and commuting.
I did succeed in “losing some weight” but something strange happened…
Instead of being happier, my discontent grew.
The more I focused on shrinking myself, the more I disliked what I saw. It consumed my mental energy and occupied way too much of my brainspace.
My second year of college, I transferred to UMass and lived off campus which gave me enough privacy to sweat it out to Denise Austin fitness shows on Lifetime and start doing Weight Watchers. Everything I ate had a points value and a little cardboard tracker.
Every morning, I did my little ritual: pee and poop, weigh myself, and then pinch my inner thigh fat. If the scale didn’t dip, it wrecked my entire day.
Instead of finding freedom and salvation in quantifying my food and body, the exact opposite happened:
I lost my power to…
think for myself,
listen to my body,
use my voice,
see my innate value,
stand up for myself, and
honor my uniqueness.
This rinse and repeat cycle of wanting to be smaller continued throughout my 20s and into my early 30s. And as you can imagine, if I did lose weight, it was never enough.
The Low Point
By 2010, I was heavily into triathlon and long distance mountain biking. I thought I knew what healthy eating was – all the whole grains, low-fat pasta dishes, fat-free dairy, and even vegetarianism – but my digestion, energy levels, and mood were the pits.
It’s telling that my first reaction to these photos taken in June that year was, “My god, I look so fat.”
Ironically, I was at my lowest scale weight in a long time: 128 pounds…and yet…
Clearly, my perception was utterly off.
Okay, Enough Depressing Stuff…
There IS a happy ending to this all of this.
Slowly but surely, over the course of about a year, I started making massive changes to my nutrition, following a flexible real food framework. And I got really curious about which foods worked for my body…and the ones that didn’t. (Looking at you, cow dairy, bell peppers, and raw onions.)
I overhauled my fitness routine and eventually gave up endurance sports. The burnout was real, and it dawned on me that I was using that modality of training to run away – literally – from my problems. (Note: Not everyone has this relationship with endurance sports. This, however, was mine.)
Sleep became my friend, not something I put as the last priority.
Because if I wasn’t fed and watered and rested (nourished!!), how the hell could I start to address the deeper issues going on?!
My goals shifted AWAY from shrinking my physical self toward getting stronger and healthier.
I started strength training, and the only weight I cared about was what I was putting on the barbell. And, I stopped stepping on the scale every damn day.
It was a process, for sure. There were ups and downs and sideways zig zags.
But as my body healed and strengthened, my mind began to wonder about what else I could do, too…
…but from a place of expansion and self-exploration and curiosity and growth. Not from one of self-loathing.
It’s Time to Embrace Your Bigness
I’m definitely not the only kickass female leader shouting the benefits of bigness – metaphorical and literal – from the rooftops.
A quick (non-exhaustive!) list brings to mind women like:
- Kourtney Thomas (her IG)
- Chrissy King (her IG)
- Jen Sinkler (her IG)
- Sonja Price Herbert (her IG)
- Jill Coleman (her IG)
- Neghar Fonooni (her IG)
- Noelle Tarr (her IG)
- Elisabeth Akinwale (her IG)
- Beth Manos Brickey (her IG)
- Meg Squats (her IG)
- Jessamyn Stanley (her IG)
- Emily Schromm (her IG)
- She Thrives (her IG)
- Women’s Strength Coalition (their IG)
- Girls Gone Strong (their IG)
- Girls Gone WOD (their IG)
- GRRRL (their IG)
And there are so.many.more. This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.
While you’re at it, go follow all these women on Instagram and social media (I linked it for you)…and unfollow anyone who’s selling you thinness as the solution to all your problems. Fresh start. It’s time for ruthlessness.
When I shared this sentiment on Instagram last week, well, apparently it resonated…
I want to add some of my own thoughts to the conversation.
First, y’all…we need to get clear on a few things:
- BMI is bullshit. Just stop.
- Focusing hardcore on body weight loss takes away from a more important focus on gaining health. Weight loss is (often) a symptom of improving health, not the driver.
- Your mental, emotional, and spiritual health need just as much attention as your physical being.
For me, building muscle was a key part of embracing my body. Getting smaller and playing the bathroom scale game sure didn’t make me happy, anyway. As I leaned into gaining strength, my muscles grew and so did my confidence and self-esteem.
When I stopped trying to micromanage my body and began to trust it, I finally started feeling content, capable, and free.
Quite the opposite of what diet culture teaches, right?
And when are we going to realize that the consistent societal droning of “get smaller” is really a call to sit down and be quiet?
After all the years of trying to shrink myself down to a speck where I lost my voice, my ambitions, and my courage, the feeling of expansiveness began to ripple out into other areas of my life.
What Taking Up More Space Can Mean For You
Your journey is yours alone. Your values, desires, and purpose are yours alone. Therefore, how bigness manifests in your life may look different than mine.
Here’s what taking up space might mean:
- Suggesting an idea at work when you’d normally stay silent.
- Booking that fitness class you’ve been avoiding.
- Throwing out the g*ddamn bathroom scale.
- Lifting weights.
- Having a tough conversation with your significant other.
- Amplifying the voices of others who are normally not heard.
- Quitting your soul-sucking job.
- Changing direction.
- Turning a side passion into your main gig.
- Taking a solo trip.
- Standing up for what you believe in.
And there are countless others.
I was a few years into this adventure of taking up more space when I decided I wanted to leave my 9-5 job as a high school teacher to do this full-time. And I came right up against the major rebuttal most people give when I mention bigness:
“But what will other people say?!!”
It paralyzed me for months.
Luckily I had a good coach to snap me out of it and get me moving forward.
Over the years, I’ve come to understand these truths…
1. No matter what you choose – stay or go, do it or don’t, shrink or grow – someone is going to have an opinion either way. So why not do what your heart is called to do and let the opinions come?!
2. As a corollary to #1: You cannot control what other people think about you. Wanna try? Be my guest. It’s f*cking exhausting.
That’s not to say that I’m immune to worries that someone will judge me or that I’m saying the wrong thing…
…but I’ve learned to take action even when I’m afraid…even if it’s one tiny step.
The world needs your voice, your talents, and the fullness of your spirit.