A few years ago, I was hit by a car while cycling. Well actually, I was hit by a trailer being pulled by a pickup truck. It was really traumatic and I had several injuries, but it could have been much worse.
Cyclists by law are allowed full use of any car lane. Usually cyclists hug the right hand side of the road, as a courtesy to vehicles to allow them to pass. When I got hit, I was hovering as close to the edge as I could. This was my mistake.
There is a strategy cyclists use sometimes to protect themselves. They take up the entire lane as they ride. Thissounds counterintuitive, but it’s really effective. When a cyclist hogs the whole lane, drivers aren’t tempted to pass unless they can do so by going into the opposite lane, just like a driver would pass a vehicle. This allows the cyclist the full use of the lane. The cyclists takes up space to be safe.
When I got hit, the driver thought he had enough space in the lane for both his vehicle and me on my bike. He didn’t give me any berth, but rather drove within his lane, crowding me out and striking me with his trailer. I was thrown off my bike and landed hard on the side of the road.
As I was cycling the other day, I felt like cars were buzzing me too closely. I was breathing hard, feeling the slam of the tailwind and the heat and stink of exhaust from each car that passed me. A thought ran through my head: “Take up space.”
Everyday, we suffer from a constant deluge of images, videos, magazine articles, and advertisements that often feature people with an impossible beauty standard. Doctors and other well-meaning healthcare providers pressure “overweight” patients to lose weight in the name of health, often guilting or shaming them in the process. Mothers police what their children eat. Tweens compare their body to their peers, dieting to achieve their desired body. Social media is chock full of people touting their particular diet, selling supplements, initiating weight loss challenges, and dispensing guilt about eating carbs, fat, gluten, sugar, or anything else.
Just like cyclists are constantly subjected to the danger of passing cars, people are subjected to diet pressures. These people crowd us out in our own lanes, throwing us off balance and even injuring us in the process.
We need a strategy to protect our mental and physical well-being.
Enter the body positivity movement. It goes by a lot of different names. Health at Every Size (which is a registered, official movement), body kindness (which has a book by the same name authored by Rebecca Scritchfield), fat acceptance, anti-obesity, anti-diet…you get the idea.
This movement has gained popularity in recent years, and for good reason. Many people that are “overweight” or “obese” as defined by Body Mass Index (BMI) are not unhealthy, nor do they need to lose weight for health reasons. (The BMI controversy is a whole separate issue best laid aside for another day). Many are fatigued by so-called “experts” touting their pet version of whatever diet they say is best for you. And many people have been let down by diets, suffering mental and physical ramifications while caught in diet traps.
Roxane Gay, in her book Hunger, talks about taking up space. Allowing your body to take up space is a protective mechanism, just like a cyclist taking up space in the lane. It can keep you safe. This is what Gay writes about taking up space.
“I am hyperconscious of how I take up space. As a woman, as a fat woman, I am not supposed to take up space. And yet, as a feminist, I am encouraged to believe I can take up space. I live in a contradictory space where I should try to take up space but not too much of it…Whenever I am near other people, I try to fold into myself so that my body doesn’t disrupt the space of others.”
Not just “overweight” people think about how much space they take up. This can happen to anyone, whether they are thin or fat.
Here’s the take-home message: allow yourself to take the space you need. Your body deserves it. Your mental state deserves it. If you don’t like your body, begin the process of body acceptance. Seek out positive social media channels. Read uplifting books. Seek therapy from a competent specialist. Find a body-positive, non-diet dietitian to help you navigate this tricky space you’re embarking on. You don’t have to go it alone.
Take up space.
Books to help you start to take up your own space:
Body Kindness, Rebecca Scritchfield
Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, Linda Bacon
Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole
Feeding the Hungry Heart, Geneen Roth
And here’s a great store with body positive t-shirts: http://www.healthfullnutrition.com/store/
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Photo credit Paul Green at Unsplash