Take Up Space Revisited

Two years ago, I wrote about the need for women to take up space and claim their power in a room. Now, I’m realizing that the issue is much larger.

This issue of body politics extends to food and body image. The smaller women are in body weight the more confident we are supposed to feel. When we make ourselves thin we are beautiful. When we make ourselves small at the dining room table, we are beautiful. We do not reach for second helpings. We do not take first at meals.

I never feel more visible and aware of being a woman than when I am eating. From how I hold my fork to when I sip my water to what is on my plate, I feel exposed. Eating makes me feel guilty and gluttonous. Eating can become a cause of anxiety (when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat). When I eat, I want to be invisible and shrink myself down to nothing. From my own experience, I take up the least space when I am at the table.

Not every woman has the same experience, and I cannot claim to speak for others. But before I can spread my legs on a bus seat or tuck my shoulders back and straighten my spine when I enter a room of men, I must first take up space with food.

We must choose to be visible in all aspects of our lives, even, and especially, the ones we are shamed for. Eating becomes a political statement: a chance for women to claim our right to exist! If we are shamed for surviving and told to gain confidence by making ourselves small and invisible, there is no space we can inhabit as full human beings. To take up space physically, we must start at the source and claim food and eating as a stance of political power.

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Books By Women: Dreaming in Cuban

After reading The Lady Matador’s HotelI knew I needed to explore more of Cristina Garcia’s work. Dreaming in Cuban (1992) was Garcia’s first novel, but you would never be able to tell by the flowing language, intricate pacing and point of view. The novel follows three generations of women exploring their relationship to each other, their Cuban identity and heritage, as well as the bias of perspective.

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This was a perfect choice to read during my year of Books by Women because most of the main characters are female and each experiences life, love and politics in a vastly different way than the other women of her family. Celia del Pino, the oldest of the women, supports the Cuban Revolution and is bound by her communist beliefs just as much as by her experience in a mental institution, away from her husband and daughter, Lourdes.

Lourdes hates Cuba and communism and moves to the United States with her husband to open a bakery. What I loved about Lourdes is that she is described as obese, but a beautiful and sexual being. Her weight holds no bearing on her sexuality or her sexual desires. As usual, Garcia writes female sexuality as natural, intimate and for the woman’s pleasure not the male gaze. There is a time in the novel where Lourdes loses weight through vigorous exercise and not eating for months and I felt awful for her, no matter how gorgeous she looked in her trim white suit for Thanksgiving. It felt like a character I loved for who she was withered away. When she finally starts eating again, she does so with such immense pleasure and might that I loved her more and more with each bite and each button that snapped from her suit. I loved the way Garcia rejected fat shaming and the novel is an excellent source of body positivity.

After Lourdes, Celia gives birth to Felicia. Through Felicia, Garcia takes a second look at the trope of women and madness through Felicia’s abusive relationship with her husband and the odd ways she loves her children.

The novel is told through third person present tense, but at times we see first person narration through the eyes of the youngest generation. As readers we learn Felicia’s story through third person and then through first person through the eyes of her twin daughters, and then again through the eyes of her son. This narrative switch comes into play throughout the novel, with first person narration by Lourdes’ daughter, Pilar, a punk artist. The switch in perspective happens only occasionally but is never jarring. Reading the novel as a writer, I marveled at Garcia’s use of perspective to tell a nuanced story of the lives of three generations of women: Celia, Lourdes and Felicia, and Pilar.

I would definitely recommend this novel, especially to readers interested in Latina authors and Cuban history. Because the novel is mainly historical fiction, Garcia fleshes out the story with historical details of Cuba during the Cold War and beautiful details of Cuban culture including foods and traditions. Dreaming in Cuban did not disappoint and her writing style foreshadows the incredibly work she would later do for The Lady Matador’s Hotel. 

Next up: No One Belongs Here More than You, by Miranda July. The summer’s almost over, but keep reading!