It feels like every day someone finds a new way to tell girls to take up less space. It's no secret that women are expected and encouraged to be thin, to always watch what they eat and squeeze in extra trips to the gym before bikini season. But our obsession with women's weight is only one part of the problem.
As people like to remind me fairly often, I'm small. I stopped growing when I was in middle school, so I'm only 5'2". When it comes to describing me, "short" is usually one of the first words people use, and that doesn't bother me. Being short is a mindset at this point (even if that mindset is a mild Napoleon complex).
What does bother me is when people call me short or small as a compliment. I am constantly praised for taking up less space than the average woman, and I'm given credit for my tininess as if I worked hard to achieve it. People—and guys aren't the only ones guilty of this—love that I give them more room on airplanes, that they can easily look right over my head and that I can squish into the way back seat when we carpool. I'm subject to a lot of "manspreading" because it's expected that I can give up some of the room that I'm not taking up with my own body.
In other ways, though, I take up a little too much space. Besides "short," I get described as blunt or brutally honest or—my personal favorite—savage. In general, I don't hold back my opinions. I participate frequently in class. I take forever to tell stories because I can't stop adding personal commentary. People tend to think these qualities are less endearing than my tiny stature. But why?
I'm taking up too much narrative space. When guys talk for a bit, they're considered outgoing and personable, or at the very least, the fairly neutral description "talkative." However, when the tables are turned and a girl speaks too much, she "never shuts up." Even in an environment like a class discussion, where disagreement and conversation are encouraged, girls often get shut down for voicing an opinion that wouldn't be questioned if it came from one of the guys in the back. For instance, a few weeks ago, after I made a comment in my moral philosophy class, someone leaned over and told me to just write my ideas down instead of saying them. I took up too much space in the conversation; I made myself too visible.
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said it best in her brilliant and moving TEDx talk: "We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, 'you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man.'"
Girls, you shouldn't check yourselves from taking up too much room. You don't need to earn the right to your space. But you do have to fight for it. We live in a society where bigger is better, except when it comes to girls. You are allowed to be visible. Spread out, speak with conviction and revel in the space you take up. It's yours, and yours alone.