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.

10 steps to positive body image.png

 

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Take Up Space

It is not difficult to look into a room and know immediately who controls the area. Watch people’s body language. How do they sit? Who is standing? Where are they gathered and around who are they gathered? Who looks the most comfortable in the space? Chances are the ones in control of the space are men.

Count how many women sit with their legs or ankles crossed.  Count how many men sit with their legs splayed. Who is controlling the space?

Men are taught to take up space when they enter a room. Whether that is literally inhabiting more area by sitting with their legs splayed, or standing with confidence to dominate those who are sitting, men are taught they enter a space and they own it. Any competition to be top-dog exists between men only. Women in the space are fixtures of beauty to be acted upon and brought into their sphere of influence.

Just the other day I was standing and drinking tea with a male professor. Another man came by and asked if I was cold. I was not cold and for a moment I did not understand. Then it became clear: I was standing with my tea cup grasped with both hands in front of my chest and my shoulders hunched together. I looked cold because I was unconsciously trying to take up less room.

While men are taught to dominate public spaces, women are taught that their presence is tolerated so long as they don’t speak up or take the spotlight from men. It’s so easy to sink into the shadows when you’ve been taught your whole life the public sphere is not for you. It’s easy to relinquish control to the idea of male domination because most of this power dynamic is incredibly subtle.

It’s me standing with my whole body hunched in on itself to give my professor more room. It’s me walking just slightly behind a male companion to let him lead. It’s me readily giving up my control of a situation. Because that’s what this concept of public space is about: control.

If you control the space, you control the people in the space. You set the agenda for what is heard, what is said and what is taken seriously. With myself included, women need to take up more space. It won’t be easy because a woman who takes up space is a woman with a voice and a woman with a voice is a woman who is shot down at every turn. It is “unladylike” and you will be criticized for it. But it is better to have a voice and push to be heard because eventually you will succeed. With more and more women understanding this idea of body politics, we will succeed.

When women take up space we create a more equal playing field before words are even spoken. We challenge the status quo by putting our bodies out there as whole people who deserve respect. Respect yourself and take up more space.

Dear Men: A list of what I do not owe you

In a hypothetical situation that very closely (some might even go so far as to say exactly) mirrors reality, I am walking down the street in Istanbul trying to find my way to the shuttle that will take me to the airport. A shoe-shine man drops one of his brushes. I pick it up and hand it back to him.

Dear Shoe-Shine Man:

I do not owe you

  1. where I am from
  2. my name
  3. my age
  4. my marital status
  5. my time

I helped you, but that does not mean you delay me by insisting you shine my shoes and asking me personal questions. My life is my own. My time is my own. I do not not owe you my time. Just because I am a woman walking down the street without a man does not mean I am available.

Do not take my help as flirting. I did nothing to invite your attention and I do not want your attention. Please, shoe-shine man, get a grip on your ego and do not assume that I am straight or that I am automatically interested in you.

Thank you and please be a decent human being.

Another hypothetical situation:

I am walking by myself in Izmir killing some time and decide to get a cup of tea. After passing by  multiple places I deem to be a bit too sketchy, I pick a restaurant, sit down and order.

Dear Waiter,

I do not owe you:

  1. my name
  2. my age
  3. my facebook information
  4. my phone number

I am buying a cup of tea. A woman by herself should not be a walking anomaly. I might give you my name to be polite, but you do not need to know my age. Especially when you tell me you think I’m 15. When I correct you and say that I am twenty, it is poor manners to say “Me too!” and ask if I’m on facebook then hand over your phone for my number. We do not know each other. I have given no indication that I am interested in you in a romantic fashion. Being alone and being American does not make me more available or more flirtatious. It means I’m alone and I’m American.

In the future, please check your ego before you speak to your female customers.

Thank you. Have a nice day.

People have told me the above scenarios are a cultural issue, not a sexist issue. They tell me it is to be expected if I am traveling alone. I tell them that it should never be expected for a woman to receive harassment because that is condoning oppressive treatment.

In addition there is nothing cultural about men believing they have the right to pick up women wherever they are. The same attitude from men exists in America. The pervasive attitude is that all women exist to serve men and that if a man gives you a compliment or asks for your phone number you should be elated. A man showed interest in you! That’s one step closer to the womanly ideal of marriage and a family! And while those ideals are fine for some women as long as it’s what they want, they are not fine for all women. They are certainly not fine for me.

It’s difficult to tell men “no” because of how much we’ve been conditioned to acquiesce to the “more dominant sex.” But as women we need to realize the power in saying “no”. And understanding that we don’t owe men our time simply because we are women.

My Body My Decisions

For years I wanted to cut my hair short. Not because I identify as queer but because I love short hair. I think short hair is beautiful. I think short curly hair is beautiful and that is the look I wanted.

My brother hates short hair on women. He believes an attractive woman has long straight hair and that this is somehow the ideal. The last time I was home in March I told him I was thinking of cutting my hair short and we talked about how if I stayed in GA for the summer then I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair. This was our deal, for all that it was worth, though I didn’t plan on sticking to this agreement. I didn’t take it too seriously.

Yesterday I cut my hair to my chin, nothing radical, but a good six inches of hair was hacked off and lay in clumps on the floor of Great Clips. And I knew that no matter how much I loved this new style I did not want my brother to see. He would not approve and I would be less-than in his eyes.

But when I Skyped my mother, she of course called my brother over to see my hair cut. He told me flat out: “Your hair is too short.” He asked me: “Why???” Why would I ever do something with my body that he thinks makes me less attractive to men? I wonder.

It didn’t matter that my room mate told me my hair looked adorable, or that my mother told me I looked beautiful. My brother felt he had the right to command my body and my decisions.

So I told him flat out: “I want to hit you right now. You have no right to say what I can and cannot do with my hair.”

He told me, “But I don’t like it.”

“That doesn’t matter. Your opinion has no bearing.”

“None?” He spoke in a soft voice, confused.

“No, I don’t care what you think.”

Silence. For a few moments neither of us spoke as we had nothing more to say until we said our rote I love you’s and hung up.

I am not going to lie, it felt great to tell my straight, white cissgender brother that his opinion does not matter. It felt great to silence someone who so often has the power to silence others. Maybe I am being petty, but even for something as small as a haircut, I am standing my ground and standing up for my rights as a woman.  On a much smaller scale, this is what the war on women comes down to: men believing they know what is right for a woman. And whether it is reproductive rights or as simple as a haircut, no one knows what is best for you, but you.

There is no one standard of beauty. I do not need to adhere to my brother’s  ideas of what a woman should be because they revolve around a world of heteronormativity. But even if I were straight, my decisions are my own and no one has the right to demand I change how I wish to present myself.

 

 

Reclaim the words of Fashion

My mother and I were on a bit of an artistic kick today. We wanted to create something, but felt we didn’t have the tools or the skill to put together something with as much value as, say, sculpture or pottery. I considered knitting or crocheting but that would have excluded my mother. We thought about painting, but had no paint. We thought about drawing, but had no inspiration. We finally settled on digging some construction paper and glue sticks out of the bottom of my closet,  and with the help of some of my mother’s old fashion magazines we created found poems.

At their most basic, found poems are created by taking words from pre-existing sources and fitting them together to say what you want. While my mother and I used old fashion magazines, to cut out and paste words, phrases, or images onto construction paper, found poems can be just as easily created by flipping to random pages in books and pulling out words to write on the page.

Although I cannot recreate the fonts, the colors or the backgrounds for the words I used, here’s the found poem I created as close to its original format as I can do.

Your body

Your embrace.

                    Yourself healthy, radiant

You don’t need Escape Plans

Welcome Compassion

         Do what you love.

Never forget yourself.

At least 90% of these words came from fashion magazines. As controversial as the fashion industry is in feminist circles, they use words that can be empowering if reclaimed. If you get a moment and are feeling creative, know there are inspiring messages anywhere. Create. See what catches your eye and piece it together in ways unique to you. Reclaim the words of the media and express your ideas for no other purpose than to make yourself feel good.

Women Wear Bras…Get Over It

When I was in 5th grade, my mother started telling me to wear a tank top underneath my shirt. I didn’t understand at the time this was her way of transitioning me into wearing a bra without having to bring up such a distasteful word. And it’s word ripe with negative connotations.

After all, bras are a reminder that women have breasts and that this is a main biological difference between males and females. It is the reason women are not permitted to go shirtless despite both sexes having a chest area and nipples. Somehow, having breasts must make women inferior.

It seems that way, as when growing up I was constantly embarrassed to even say the word bra or have it come up in conversation. There was an episode of The Amanda Show where during a sketch in outer space, Amanda’s space ship was attacked by a giant bra. I was offended and mortified watching that episode with my brother and I left the room. I was too young to be wearing a bra yet, but I understood there was a horrible connotation with female underwear and I was ashamed I would one day be associated with something so vile. I explained that there was a flying bra in The Amanda Show to my mother and I had to use the offensive word and that somehow made the situation worse. It was barely 30 seconds out of a 20 minute television show, but that attacking bra still tugs at my mind that a woman’s body is evil and destructive.

I am well aware of the counter arguments to my point: 1. it’s a comedy show so they weren’t trying to be offensive  2.it was said by a woman and therefore it’s okay, and 3. I’m overreacting. But this wasn’t comedy to debunk stereotypes and it didn’t explain why a woman’s body and what she is told to wear is not evil. Laughter is only the best medicine when it’s laughter with purpose and direction not geared to oppress. As to the show starring a woman and the joke being said by a woman, that does not make the joke funny any more than it makes it excusable. Women do not have the right to put other women down anymore than men do. And no, this is not an overreaction because I was traumatized by this one memorable instance where it felt shameful and horrible to be a girl. No one should have to go through that.

From early middle school into most of high school I didn’t wear bras. I wore tank tops with bras built into them because I hated underwire and I was embarrassed when someone could see the outline of my bra through my shirt. But above all, I didn’t want to be associated with wearing bras. I didn’t want to be a woman.

The last time I went bra shopping with my mother at the mall, my brother was at the mall with us. To explain where we were going, my mother told him we were going to go get me unmentionables. Bra is not a word for polite conversation and is apparently not even polite speech within families. Heaven forbid my brother realize I’m a woman and that I wear a bra! Heaven forbid the world catches on that half the population is female and most are expected to wear bras! It all goes back to the nipple conundrum, I suppose.

This is not to perpetuate the stereotype of the bra burning feminist. My point is that female biology is treated radically different than male biology and this is a tactic to keep women feeling poorly about themselves. If women’s underwear is linked directly to sex and being sexy then there is a cultural connotation that sexualizes women’s bodies no matter whether they wear Victoria’s Secret or a run of the mill Sport’s Bra. It’s the breasts that are sexy and the bra just increases this natural sex appeal and so women are naturally more sexy than men (the female body is supposedly always sexy because of a woman’s breasts). By this theory, there is a  need to keep this sexy nature under control.

Breasts are always tempting to men and therefore evil, but to dissuade this perpetuation of rape culture being featured prominently in the media, when bras aren’t advertised as sexy they are portrayed as funny. The only reason bras can be played as humorous is because they are directly linked to women and not only is it okay to sexualize the female form but it is also okay to portray the sexualizing device as necessary and evil.

 

I’m not suggesting women go burn their bras as signs of the patriarchy and oppression, but use the word. Take back the word bra to mean support or however else you define it. If we can own the word feminist we can take back the word bra. Bras are not synonymous to Victoria’s Secret, they’re not a measure of your worth, they’re not designed as a gag to make fun of women, and above all they are not evil.

A woman’s body is not evil and there is nothing to be ashamed about.

*NOTE:For more information on wearing bras and why women should or should not wear them, check out this link:

http://www.007b.com/why_wear_bras.php