Taking up (the right amount of) space

I’m gonna put you inside the head of a “plus-sized” girl for a few minutes. And no, it’s not all donuts and hot chocolate, though…yummm…those sound good on this cold winter night.

Ahem. Anyway.

Today, at lunch, I discovered that the interwebs got all excited about “plus-sized” models in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. And in the space of about 3 seconds, I felt all the feelings that go with such momentous news:

  • Whoa, cool! She’s a size 14! I’m not that far from that.
  • Damn. She’s hot. I should sign up for those strength training classes, but I’m pretty sure my abs won’t ever look like that, because, well, I’m about 6 inches shorter than her.
  • Could I ever have the cohones to wear a bikini? HAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
  • Jeez, why is this such a big frickin’ deal? Oh great, someone who’s not a stick figure is now going to be laid out for all to judge her body on the glossy pages of a magazine. And what does wearing a bikini that will come off at the first tropical breeze have to do with sports? Answer – nothing. It’s about sex, like most things.
  • I will never look like her. And men will never look at me like this. And would I want them to? I shouldn’t want them to, after all, because it’s objectifying and insulting. But deep down in my heart of hearts, it might feel good.
  • I should get back to work, which I will do after I watch this highlight reel from the Superbowl.

Predictably, those same interwebs got the story all a-muddled; there is an ad for a 14-16 model, which is unusual in and of itself, and one of the actual featured models is – gasp – a size 10-12 and is considered “plus.” Stop the presses, people, this is clearly huge (pun-intended) news.

Anyway, later in the day, I climbed onto the bus and faced one empty seat, next to a fellow plus-sized girl. I sat and she did what I always do when someone sits next to me. She gave me an apologetic smile, drew her arms in, clutched her bag tighter on her lap, and basically tried to will herself to take up less space on the seat. And my heart cracked a little bit. Without thinking, I gave her a big smile, and said “Don’t worry, you’re fine”. She sent me a grateful little smile of her own, and we sat companionably together, our chubby hips touching through the layers of our coats, as my brain had a little implosion.

How many hours/days/weeks/months have people like me and this woman spent…no…wasted…fretting over taking up too much space? We do it on buses, in theaters, on airplanes, even walking down the street. I know we do, because I see it. We’re the people who, even when we’re alone on the bus, have a tendency to hug our arms close to our body, out of habit. We’re the ones who wonder, all the time, why clothing always seems to be not quite right for us. We’re the ones who press close to the side of a building when the sidewalk gets crowded. We worry, when dancing in a crowd, that we’ll bump into someone because our sphere of space is bigger than most. We’re the ones who, when we find out no one’s sitting in the middle seat, literally feel like our relief could fly the plane if the fuel runs out.

What is this about? What is going on here? Not all chubby people feel this way, and I’m sure there are some skinny folks who might have similar issues. Is it just a lack of confidence? Or an increased sense of self-awareness? Is it that we think we don’t deserve the space, that by being bigger than the norm, we are somehow less than worthy?

Jeez, I really hope it’s not that last one. I hope it’s not the litany of “lose weight/get healthy/if you don’t you’ll never be happy” messages we see every day getting to us. Because that’s just awful, and let’s face it, a skinny college student with a bookbag takes up WAY more space than me.

I don’t want to be one of those clueless people who are oblivious to the world around them, but I would like to care a little bit less about whether my shoulders are too wide for a narrow seat. Do I think that having plus-sized models being ogled by Sports Illustrated readers will help? Probably not. But I guess, in the end, I’m kind of excited to see a model with some flesh around her midsection on the pages of a popular magazine, even if it’s a paid advertisement. Ultimately, I wish we could, as a society, get over our need to stare at mostly naked women all the time, while at the same time chastising women/girls for being immodest. Seriously, we are a messed up bunch.

(Though I do admit, if there was a male version of the swimsuit edition, I’d probably look at it surreptitiously in the supermarket line. And I would be excited to see a male model with a little padding around the gut. I really would. Yes, yes, I know, I’m part of the societal problem.)

But I can’t fix societal problems from this blog, so I’m simply going to work on being ok with the space I take up. I might not hug the wall for a few days and I might bump into people, but we’ll see what happens. I might rub elbows with some commuters and assess the results. I might even throw my shoulders back and force myself to stand firmly, a big smile on my face, the next time I feel like I’m taking up too much space. I hope, if you’re like me, you’ll give it a try too.

Oh and PS? I’m gonna go sign up for that strength training session. Because I think we are getting closer to admitting that even a plus-sized girl can have nice abs.

7 thoughts on “Taking up (the right amount of) space

  1. When I stand in front of a mirror, naked, standing straight and feeling strong – I love my body. When I go out in public trying to look cute and trendy, I hate my body.

    It’s a stupid, stupid thing.

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