About Entitlement and Space

I have a problem with the word ‘deserve.’ I have for as long as I can remember.

When I hear someone say, “I deserve . . .” followed by some material something, I can’t stop the immediate reaction: No, you don’t. I can usually keep it from coming out, but not always.

That being said, I do, of course, believe there are some things that are deserved.

There are lots of things I consider basic human rights. See Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid up there? I believe that every human being deserves all of those things.

This is why I support public service programs and why you will never hear me say we should take care of our own first. Until everyone on Earth has the basics that they deserve, then I don’t have a problem giving up the privileges that I have by virtue of birth as a middle-class American white kid.

I know it isn’t possible for every person on Earth to be brought up to the standard that many white, middle-class and wealthy Americans think they deserve.  There just aren’t enough resources for that. In order for everyone to have enough, to have the things on the pyramid, the privileged have to be willing to have less. This is a concept that is important to me. One I take seriously.

Lots of people are writing about the right to occupy space in the FA-sphere lately. I’ve honestly never thought about it before. I mean, inherent in my general philosophy of life, I believe that people with disabilities are entitled to the space they need to be present and comfortable. I have no problem with, and have actually been trained to testify in front of legislation about, people having the accommodations people with different abilities need to be included in society.

And yet. Any yet, I have done everything I can to take up as little space as possible since I was a little girl.

I hunch and scrunch my body, hold my breath, press my flesh into hard metal barriers–anything to make myself as small as possible. I apologize if someone is forced to touch me in tight quarters. I push myself into the corner of an elevator if there are a lot of people on it, even though I’m claustrophobic and this makes me very uncomfortable. I cross my arms over my body and press my thighs together, in an effort to not take one more inch than is necessary.

I once took a workshop where the participants had to sit in desks with attached chairs. I wedged myself in there so tightly that I had an honest-to-God bruise across my abdomen for a week, rather than just pulling up a regular chair to the side of a desk to work at. I didn’t want to be out in the aisle way.  I didn’t want to take up more space than everyone else.

I have also rarely taken a single bite of food in nearly 30 years or exercised a single moment in nearly 20 without thinking about whether or not that bite or that step would decrease the amount of space I take up in the world.

I’m new to fat acceptance. Many of the people talking about this have long since realized that they are entitled to the space their body occupies. That it is something they deserve.

But even as I write this,  I asked myself what I was doing. Of course I believe I deserve the same things that other people deserve. And in some ways, I do believe that. I would voice the opinion that I do. I have not had a problem accepting education, for example. Or clean water.

And food? It’s right there, on the very bottom of the pyramid. The base on which all the other basic human needs rests on. So important that all of the other layers of need can’t fully be actualized without it.

I have been on diets that restricted my calories to anorexic levels in an all-encompassing effort to take up less space. I am still working on being able to feel full–not bursting full, just satisfied–without feeling guilty for eating too much.

Sure, there is the health thing. I’ve said many times that I was going on a diet/changing my lifestyle/watching my portions because I wanted to be healthier. But, let’s be honest. I wanted to be skinny. My first husband left me a couple of months after he told me that he just wasn’t attracted to big women for a woman he likes to point out weighs 112 pounds soaking wet . Trust me, I did not care about the state of my heart, except that it was broken, or whether I might get diabetes some day. I wanted to be thin.

And then I got older. And fell in love again, and my heart healed. And I did care more about my health–but being brutally honest, when I bought books like  the South Beach Diet or the Superfoods Diet or the Mediterranean Diet, even though my mouth was saying I wanted to be healthy, my head knew better. I wanted to be thin.

I wanted to take up less space.

I did everything I could think of for decades to force myself to fit into the box of air space I thought I was entitled to. One that would accommodate a size 8 woman, but not a size 14, and then 16, and then 18 and so on to 26–because the harder I tried to shrink, the more space I took up.

Kind of like the reverse of one of those Chinese toys where you stick your fingers in the ends and the harder you try to pull them out, the smaller the space inside becomes.

I am still acutely aware that clean water is a right and having hot and cold running water available at the twist of a faucet is a privilege. Or that having adequate food is a right, while having access to basically any food I want at any time is privilege.

I am starting to learn to accept that being comfortable in my own skin is something that everyone deserves, too.  The right to take up the space you take up is something you and I and everyone else deserves to be able to do. It’s part of the tip of the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid. Self-actualization. If you take a hard look at that pyramid, you’ll see the path to that kind of self-acceptance.

Athleticism lives up there in the tip, for me, as well. The right to say I’m an athlete now, and not 100 or even 200 pounds from now. Being able to afford or have access to a gym or join teams or participate in events that cost a lot of money and time are a privilege. Moving my body with purpose and training it are a right that I firmly believe everyone is entitled to, if that is part of their self-actualization, but it’s really hard to get there if you are lacking one of the lower levels of need.

I can’t control what other people do. I can’t stop someone from not wanting to sit next to me in an airplane, for instance. Or giving me a dirty look if they have to touch me to squeeze into a crowded elevator. But, I can stop myself from feeding that by focusing my time and energy and resources on trying to shrink to accommodate them. And once I do that, I can accept that I have the right to the space I occupy. I am under no obligation to try to force my size 26 body into a size 8 box.

I’m not there yet, to the tip of the pyramid, but everyday I get a little closer.



Filed under body, mind, spirit

10 responses to “About Entitlement and Space

  1. I love this. I love this so much. I have been lurking on FA blog for the past few months and very recently – just weeks ago – stopped scrunching myself when someone sits next to me on the subway. Because I got there first and I take up what I take up.

    It’s incredible that I have to remind myself that I have a right to take up space.

    Thank you for this.

    • You are so welcome. I find myself doing the same thing. I took some pictures of myself the other day and when I looked at them, my shoulders were all hunched inward–a habit, I know. But I was sitting on my own goddamn front porch!

  2. Jilll Kelley

    My dear sister, you are loved more than you know. I love you!

  3. welcome to the movement! i came to FA through Eating Disorder blogs (i was bulimic for 15+years after diets didnt work) and found myself processing much the same way you are. I am PAINFULLY aware of how “in the way” i am when out in public. I am also very all (like six foot 2 inches tall) so in addition to shoving my body into small spaces i also stoop and shrink in height too. Yoga is really helping me with this. i have to expand in yoga, and purposefully take UP space.

    thanks for the post it echos how i have been thinking recently.

    • Yoga is helping me, too. I’m tall as well–5’9″–but I’m the shortest in my family by a lot. I have six brothers, most of whom are taller than 6’5″ and my sister is 6’1″. So the feeling too tall thing didn’t stick to me. My daughter is very, very tall, and I am conscious about celebrating that. I never want her to stoop. I love your avatar picture, btw.

  4. schmemily

    I have been thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs lately, too! And I would argue that the right to take up space is even lower on the pyramid–isn’t having and using the space you need a safety/security thing, too?

    I have already said this, but I’ve been struggling with my desire to lose weight. The other day, I asked myself (as I am wont to do) why I was making so much progress with eating if I still want to lose weight. And it’s definitely progress–I am eating almost exactly what I want at all times and still experiencing the amazing phenomenon of stopping before I eat so much I’m uncomfortable. (Last night I indulged in three Girl Scout cookies, for example, instead of 13. Even though I could have eaten thirteen if I had wanted to. I was really stopping when I wanted to, and I savored that.)

    So anyway, I queried myself. And I realized that, okay, I still want to lose weight, sure. But for the first time, eating normally is more important to me than losing weight. Being healthy is more important to me than losing weight. Being at a decent level of fitness is more important to me than losing weight.

    And, best of all, this is not another lie I’m telling myself and the world as I tuck into another diet book. If I had to choose between those three things and losing weight, I would pick any of those three. For sure. Without a doubt. Maybe not at the beginning of this journey to learn to eat, but now? Yes.

    And in this moment, that’s plenty.

    (And at the risk of another chapter-length comment, I want to say again how much I love your blog and how important is has been for me to read about someone on a similar path. It’s awesome. You inspire me.)

    • OMG, yes! This: And I realized that, okay, I still want to lose weight, sure. But for the first time, eating normally is more important to me than losing weight.

      This is so perfect. I still struggle with, for instance, not wanting to weigh myself. I have found that I can’t just turn off 30 years of wanting to lose weight like its a damn switch. But, I can make other things more important. And slowly, the losing weight stuff will take care of itself. I have to believe that.

      You inspire me, too.

      Oh, and yes. I think that the right to occupy the space your body takes up is sprinkled right through the hierarchy of needs. Right down to the bottom, if you deny yourself food in an effort to shrink.

  5. I only rarely catch myself trying to take up less space now. I’m not new to FA at all, but it’s something I think I forget from time to time. I used to contort myself into a panic when it was never ever necessary. Finally I realized that everyone pretty much takes up almost the same amount of space (very generalized), but some of us just fill our space with our bodies more where others may spread their legs or swing their arms…
    The fullness thing was hard for me, too. What’s truly helped me is cooking. If I work at cooking something tasty, I feel so much better eating it. I enjoy it more, even if it’s just spaghetti or something. This and listening to my inner cravings and allowing myself to indulge them, wow, what a difference! Great post. Thank you! Never saw that pyramid before, love that!

    • I studied Maslow’s pyramid a lot when I was working toward a social work degree. Once you understand it, it makes so much sense.

      Cooking helps me, too. If I put effort and forethought into choosing and making a food, it is so much easier to enjoy it without guilt.

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