When I saw that Strong Athletic was promoting a new line of apparel that read, “MASSIVE,” my first instinct was to go online to purchase it. I went to the site, perused the stylish options available, but before I could click to add the items to my cart, some old familiar feelings creeped in and made me take pause. In that moment, I understood that I had a lot of baggage tied up in this word and that I would need to unpack and unravel some of the damage that came with it, first.
I clearly have a severely negative, hurtful and highly emotional relationship with the word, “MASSIVE.” It’s tangled up with ridicule and shame in my brain from a lifetime of experiences that have informed who I am and how I operate in relation to the world. Its door is across the hall from the one that leads to being called a “big girl,” both as a teenager and as a grown adult woman, which is something I have never been cool with, for a variety of reasons, regardless of my age or the person saying it.
I started thinking more about where we get the idea that being MASSIVE is negative. I believe that it has something to do with being a woman and taking up space, or, more space than the world has taught us that we should. When I asked Nadia “Smarty Pants,” to tell me more about her decision to create the “MASSIVE” apparel for Strong Athletic, she said, “I love the word massive. I find it an exciting way to talk about the future and optimism. I want myself and the friends that I have to take up space and be massive in the world.”
I loved this explanation. It also got my wheels turning.
I too love the idea of taking up space, especially because women are taught that we should feel shameful and wrong for doing it with our bodies. We are taught to adjust ourselves to make it easier for the world that we live in to be comfortable being in our presence and to navigate around us. Reclaiming MASSIVE is a journey for me that involves being comfortable with taking up space, which I believe is deeply rooted in sexism in our society. Men can “manspread,” but we are conditioned to adopt postures that attempt to make ourselves smaller.
In September, my wife and I took a late night flight on Southwest Airlines from Las Vegas, back to our home in Austin. When we chose our seat at the back of the airplane, she took the window, so I sat in the middle. Toward the end of people boarding our full flight, a lovely woman with kind eyes asked if we would mind her sitting in the open aisle seat. I smiled back and welcomed her to sit there. She got settled in and then I noticed something that broke me for a moment.
Before our Las Vegas trip, I had lost a considerable amount of weight in the previous year, somewhere around 100 pounds. I saw this woman sitting awkwardly next to me with her elbows pulled in toward her body to try take up less space next to us. Seeing her do this alerted me to the fact that I now took up much less space, but that this is the way I had always lived up until I started flying again recently. Like her, and any other woman who doesn’t fit well in a tiny little airplane seat, I had been programmed to try to make myself smaller, so that I don’t offend the people around me by accidentally touching them with my body parts. The pain of empathy punched me in the chest and I had to bite down on my lips while doing math in my head to keep from crying.
I wanted to tell her not to worry about how much space she took up because she is worthy of her presence here. But, I also didn’t want to make her feel worse or more awkward by saying something, however well intended I may be. So, for one of the few rare moments in my life, I chose to remain silent - out of fear for unintended consequences and respect for what I didn’t know about this stranger and her feelings either way.
When we learn about the amount of space we take up, we are also taught that we should make it easier for men to navigate/walk by us. This even entails men maintaining their own position while we are expected to change or move for them to get around us.
Because of this, I am making changes.
I am a woman who is six feet tall, but no longer will I make myself smaller by hunching over. I no longer care about how comfortable people are with the amount of space I take up. I am also flat out refusing to adjust my position when walking. This means that I am willing to take the physical blow of a man running directly into me by playing a game of “chicken”, on principle, because if I do not I will be perpetuating the sexism.
As I embrace MASSIVE, I am reminded of the Ani DiFranco lyrics from one of my favorite songs ever, “Dilate”:
And I like to take up space
Just because I can
I purchased a MASSIVE hat and a tank from vacation on Thursday. I want to tell you all what I didn’t feel comfortable saying to my seat-mate on that flight from Las Vegas. "Please don’t worry about how much space you take up because you are worthy of your presence here. Let’s boldly take up space and be MASSIVE together!"