re-picturing SPACE

Are you trying to lose weight? Do you often don a posture with your arms and legs crossed over your body? Do you resent mirrors that make you look bigger than you actually are? Do you feel a sense of pride or accomplishment when you can fit into your skinny jeans?

If you responded yes to the above questions, you are much more likely to be a woman than a man.

In our society, we encourage  girls and women to be small and take up less space than men. Although we may encourage our girls to have big ideas, we simultaneously convey to them that they should restrict the space they use, by telling them to sit more ladylike (with arms and legs crossed over their bodies) and through the clothes that we encourage them to wear (its hard to take up much space in skirts and tights). This follows girls through to womanhood. How many men do you know who are trying to fit into a size 6? I’m pretty sure that men’s clothing does not have a size 0. A size 0 implies that we literally want women to vanish, disappear, or to be nothing.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a firm believer that less is more when it comes to most things. Less TV, less gossip, less spending, less junk food, less stuff. But this is not the case when it comes to space. Space has both physical and symbolic power. By being bigger, we literally take up more space in our worlds. In fact, the ideal body for men often includes a muscular physique. In some ways, this is just as difficult and dangerous to attain (often through excessive exercise or steroid use) as the thin ideal body that we encourage women to attain. But being muscular gives men additional space, strength, and power. This doesn’t stop at physical space. When we focus attention on women’s bodies and how much space they are taking up, women tend to talk and voice their opinions less.

How can we encourage girls and women to take up more physical and symbolic space while still feeling good about their bodies? What strategies have worked in your own life?

    • Tiffany Hogan
    • April 7th, 2011

    Thank you so much for another thoughtful post Sarah!

  1. I was just thinking about this last weekend, we had some friends over and two guys managed to take up the whole couch… a full length regular sized 3 cushion couch, that when I sit on I take up less and cushions worth of space. Granted these men were larger than me physically, but they were averaged sized men, they just managed to inhabit a huge amount of space. Which is something I’ve always felt I shouldn’t do, as a young woman.

  2. Spot on, lady. Your thoughts remind me of a conversation about “boyfriend” jeans I was having the other day. The name for the style bothers me, because it implies 1) heterosexuality and 2) that women will always be smaller than their boyfriends. There’s a slight infantile-ish element to it, too – look how cute the little lady is playing dress up in clothes that are too big for her!

    • blackdogramona
    • April 8th, 2011

    When I used to commute by subway, it was very common for men to sit along the sideways seats with their legs splayed out as wide as possible, and not moving to make room for new passengers to be able to sit down. I used to sit down next to them and try to push them over into their own space, but it never worked. I have never seen a woman dominate space in this kind of inconsiderate manner.

    • Michelle
    • April 8th, 2011

    True enough. I’m here from Already Pretty, and I’m glad she linked to you.

    I’d like to add to your list–people think I”m annoying when I complain about “girls’ night out” or just plain referring to women as “girls” in everyday conversation, but girls *do* take up less space than women, typically…

  3. this is so insightful–metaphorically taking up space is a good thing, we talk about people ‘throwing their weight around’, etc. when it comes to women, though, you’re absolutely right about there being a mismatch between what our ideas are expected to be like and how we’re supposed to occupy physical space. great post!


    • Roxxi
    • April 9th, 2011

    I agree with you about the link between taking up space and the perception of power. I’m petite (4’11”) and a law student, and sometimes I wish I looked more intimidating – My older friends say “presence” is something that I’ll develop as I gain more life experience, and I’ve found some very intelligent and strong petite women in the blogging world. Now I just fake it by sitting casually and leaning forward – maybe if I practise enough, it won’t be staged anymore. 🙂 Or I may find other ways to do it.

  4. Whilst lurking on a fitness message board, I noticed a trend: a lot of male posters who were on the thin side (not necessarily underweight, just not particularly big) desperately wanted to bulk up, whilst the female posters were constantly reassuring each other that they wouldn’t get “too big” through weight-training.

    “I’m pretty sure that men’s clothing does not have a size 0. A size 0 implies that we literally want women to vanish, disappear, or to be nothing.”

    The implications of “size 0” always give me pause for thought. It’s my understanding that size 0 only exists due to size inflation – an 0 today has the dimensions of a 2 from a few years ago, or a 4 from a few years further back, or a 12 from the 1950s. Whilst it’s definitely worth considering the implications of size 0 with regard to women not being supposed to take up space (and I fully agree with all your points there), I’m not sure size 0 clothing exists for that reason. I think the problematic implications came after the fact, when manufacturers made their size 2s larger and decided to keep catering to the people who were now sized out.

    As a Brit, my perspective on this is a little confused. I fit into a US 0 or 00, but in UK sizing I wear a 4 or 6 – yet I take up the exact same amount of space regardless. I haven’t heard anyone (even in the UK) arguing that wearing a size 4 or 6 renders me spatially nonexistent. Again, I agree very much with your post and I hope this comment isn’t too much of a derail; I’m just interested in the values (whether positive, negative or neutral) that are attached to different clothing sizes.

  5. Absolutely loved this post! That’s exactly what me and my bestie were talking about earlier today – how men are raised up to take more space and boys are boys and they never need to take responsibilities or other people in consideration. It’s okey for men to take a lot fo space on the bus, but not if a woman does the same thing, because hey – that’s rude! Women are suppoised to be small and easy to dominate, apparantly, by men.

    • Jak
    • April 9th, 2011

    I’m a regular AlreadyPretty reader as well, following some links. Beautifully written post.

    I also wonder about this being tiny thing when watching movies about women who are in very powerful positions in a company, standing opposite these large and muscular men who are beneath her pay grade. A small thought that always runs through my mind is “he could pick her up and…do whatever he wants to her”. She may have the power in the company but he still has physical power over hers. There is the psychological part to it of her taking up less space but I also wonder if there are other, more physical, aspects to the thought of women being small.

  6. Also here from Already Pretty…
    This is a fantastic, thought-provoking post. I’ve been struggling with this concept for years, the mismatch between “you can do anything” and the more vicious caveat: “as long as you don’t upset anyone in the process.” Still trying to grow beyond that, and it’s always good to know you’re not alone.

    • Vsa
    • April 10th, 2011

    That is so weird. I never realized that guys needed more space. I guess maybe that it isore of a built in understanding.
    I’m 5′ 7″ and have been a Tom boy for most of my life, and I’ve been very anal about my space. I take a lot of space and have a presence that says don’t mess with me. Haha. No. I guess I’m just the kind who exerts to everyone around me that- I like my space, don’t crowd me. I sit comfortably on a sofa and take pride in the fact that I can take as much space as the men.
    I don’t know if it’s my size (US 6) or my height or my manners or all of them, but I never felt like I had to take up a small amount of space. I never will.

    • Vsa
    • April 10th, 2011

    Oh!! I don’t wear skinny jeans anymore. I use leggings or tights. Clothes that fit me and not clothes that I have to change myself for, to fit in.

  1. April 8th, 2011
    Trackback from : Lovely Links: 4/8/11

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