Free to Take Up Space

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L_BethanyOn days I embrace my real authentic self, I’m a “strong personality,” as those around me (mostly) lovingly describe me. When I advocate, strategize, or call out the good and bad I see, I am 100% in the game. I often laugh and quote Michael Scott from the TV show The Office, who says this while interviewing for a job when he’s asked about his greatest strengths:

“Why don’t I tell you what my greatest weaknesses are? I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job.”

Michael says that as a humble-brag, but those are definitey both my greatest strengths and weaknesses as well. And unlike Michael, I mean that in a totally honest, sometimes-this-trait-just-plain-gets-me-into-trouble kind of way. I’m like a bulldog when I’m onto something I care about—I dig my teeth into things and lock my jaw. Sometimes it’s a great quality, whereas other times it would probably behoove me to just let. it. go. But that’s a story for another day, the discussion of learning how to unlock my jaw when my pitbull-esque self latches onto something unworthy.

Despite my natural inclinations and passions, in my mind I have always thought I needed to look a certain way before earning my right to be heard. It’s a thought I definitely didn’t get in a vacuum. If we listen to the messages out there in the world, and, I’d even go as far as to say especially in the church, we’re often told women need to be sexy and demure above all else.

I spent a solid two decades dieting, and in conjunction, I spent two decades shrinking back, stifling my voice and personality. I did this because I thought I needed to be smaller and more meek in order to be the kind of woman others would celebrate. And if I’m honest, I still believe that some days. Changing decades-worth of thinking patterns doesn’t happen overnight.

Here’s one of the biggest problems with that thought pattern, though. Living a life focused on dieting means, in essence, living a life consumed with how to take up less space. It means focusing on shrinking, rather than living out, and I don’t think it’s coincidental that the gender often most obsessed with becoming smaller is also the gender that finds itself focused on rules around when it’s ok to speak up.

As I work towards loving the body I’ve got today and developing the voice I’ve been given, I find it liberating to realize that I can take up space in this world. I practice breathing deeply, and feel the tension leave my strong, healthy body as I exhale, allowing myself to be as I am today. I cast off the pressure to be sexy and demure above all else, sometimes just for moments, but I know that with practice will come more endurance and freedom.

It’s so important to me to be a strong, confident woman in the “right here and right now” because I know that if I don’t practice giving myself this permission, I won’t be a voice giving this same permission to other women. If I don’t believe my own life has meaning and value and purpose unless I look exactly like today’s female ideals, I’m sending a message of smallness to those around me as well.

Here’s what I’d love to see: us, as women, practicing daily the art of leaning into our callings, our passions, and our giftings. Casting off the idea of what someone whose voice is valued should look like, and instead, learning to use the voices we’ve been given because of our diversity, not in spite of it.

Today, let’s be bold and embrace this freedom.

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