Q & A: On taking up space.

By | February 4, 2010

The questions keep coming, and I am trying my best to provide my own plucky brand of homespun wisdom and advice. Want to join the conversation? Click over to my formspring.me page and read the 75 mostly-anonymous questions and answers I’ve posted so far, or ask me a question of your own. Below, I answer a recent question about size and space.

Q. How can I reconcile taking up more space? The hardest part for me, and what can easily derail my day, are the bus rides to and from work. My esteem can be pretty well massacred by the realization that people don’t want to have to be near me.

A. The issue of space — and how much space we’re individually entitled to, and how some folks resent our taking more than our so-called fair share — is so common, and it’s unavoidable for any of us who use publicly-shared transporation, including commercial air travel. I used to joke that if I wrote a fat memoir, I’d want to call it Adventures in Space, because so much of being a body of a certain size in public is about negotiating spaces that are sometimes just too small for us. Booths in certain restaurants, squeezing between clothing racks in a store, theme-park rides: all of these represent scenarios some fat folks have to think about a lot harder than smaller people. And I know, all too well, how a bad experience on the bus or train can ruin a morning, or a day or a week.

Here are some tips in list form:

1. It isn’t about you. It’s not. The people throwing shade your way don’t know a damn thing about you; they’re blinded by their own assumptions, which say more about them than about you, by far.

2. Or, it IS about you, but not how you think. I fly several times a year, and occasionally find myself on not-full flights. More than once I’ve had a seatmate rocket to an empty seat next to a smaller person, and had to fight the urge to take it personally. Until on one flight, a woman seated next to me asked a flight attendant if she could move, and before she did, she paused to tell me, very kindly: “I’m not moving because I don’t want to sit next to you, but I think you will probably be more comfortable if I do.” Oh, I almost cried! It was such a simple, judgment-free acknowledgment of the limitations of space on an airplane. It’s cramped. It’s uncomfortable even for smaller people, and worse still for those who are fat or tall (or both). Assuming that everyone is looking at you with disgust will only make you feel badly, and more than that, it’s probably not universally true.

3. Even if you are getting legitimate bad vibes from someone, you cannot, in the moment, amend the space you occupy. In other words, you canna change the laws of physics, captain. You will take up the same amount of space whether you are anxious and uncomfortable, or relaxed and unapologetic. Remember this and try not to get bogged down in those negative emotions; they don’t help the situation, and only make you more self-conscious. Some people will project their own expectations onto you no matter what you do, but you don’t have to soak them up; they may impose negativity on you, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Wear headphones, read a book, tune them out, live your life.

Never regret the space you take up. Occupying space is an inexorable part of existing, and regretting it or feeling guilty about it can take a tremendous and exhausting emotional toll over time, as you are, in essence, allowing yourself to feel badly about being in the world. The stranger on the bus who might make you feel badly will likely forget the encounter as soon as he or she gets to work, if not sooner; you shouldn’t carry it around with you either. If someone doesn’t want to be near you, focus on the bright side, remember who you are, and that you’re more than what they see… and enjoy the extra space.

Comments are closed.