How can we fulfil our potential, when society seems determined to keep us small?
If I were to tell you to take up more space, what would you do? Would you puff up your chest and stand a little taller? Would you speak up in that meeting at work? Would you stop apologising for who you are, and start thinking big when it came to your dreams and ambitions?
This idea of taking up space is multifaceted and rooted in feminism. Speaking at TEDxEuston, writer and activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivered a powerful speech about feminism, including the following: “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 will threaten the man.”
Society seems more open to men taking up space in the physical sense, too (manspreading anyone?), and this has very primal roots. For men, making themselves bigger is a display of dominance, while women feel discouraged to do the same for fear of not being seen as ‘feminine’.
So, how can you claim your space in today’s society? I spoke to Ray Dodd, a coach who helps women do just this.
1. Stop apologising for your existence
“Apologies are meant for when we have physically or emotionally hurt someone. Not for when someone bangs into us on the street, or when we post a picture of our less than immaculate house on Instagram, and they are certainly not for when we are not wearing any make-up.
“Your appearance is no one’s business but your own. So try to stop apologising, or if that feels like a step too far, simply start to notice how much you do it – you may well be surprised.”
2. Listen to the words you use
“I work with women in business, and many of them constantly refer to their businesses as ‘my little business’ or overuse words like ‘just’ or ‘maybe’ or ‘excuse me, but’. Equally they rarely talk in absolutes, they say ‘if my business works’ rather than ‘when’. Our brain is listening to everything we say; you’d be surprised the impact that even talking more confidently can have.”
3. Seek out your people
“Seek out communities of people who feel like your people, who are running after similar things to you. People who can be that example to you, and support you while you become an example all of your own. There is magic in a community who will have your back and withhold judgement. Actual magic.”
Learn more about Ray’s work, including her fantastic Facebook groups that bring together like-minded women, at raydodd.co.uk