I have always felt like I take up too much space. It’s partially my body — I have always been curvier than many of my peers — but it seems like more than that. Maybe it’s my emotions, which are oftentimes too big, or my voice, which seems to echo off the walls of every room I enter. My laugh could wake up an entire neighborhood. Even to myself, I sometimes feel inescapable.
It took time and a lot of awkward incidents for me to finally decide that I was, indeed, far too big for the space people expected me to occupy. I was clumsy — I bumped into people and knocked into side tables, totally unaware of where I stood in relation to the rest of the world. When I went out with my friends, people around us seemed too aware of my presence. (“I don’t know if you noticed, but the people at the table next to us were listening to you the whole time,” my friends would tell me far too often.) Sometimes I’d hear what people said about me, the weird girl, when they didn’t think I could hear them and have to pretend it didn’t hurt me, like I didn’t know, like I didn’t even care — like it didn’t make me resent myself just a little more than before.
But sometimes it was a whole lot clearer than that. It really hit me when I was sitting in the living room with my college roommate, listening to her complain about a classmate she couldn’t stand as we sipped from glasses of wine. “I’m so over her,” she complained. “She’s just… a lot.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked, mostly out of curiosity. For all of her complaining, I couldn’t understand what irked my roommate so much.
She paused, then shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s a bit like you, I guess.” She waved a hand in my direction as if to capture the very essence of me. “You know, too much sometimes.”
Though it was maybe the first time I’d heard it in words, the concept itself wasn’t new to me. It was something I’d always suspected. Too much, too much, too much. And yet somehow, the way she said it made me feel like I wasn’t enough. I was simultaneously too big and too small. If there was a happy medium, I had no idea how to find it. All I knew was that I hated how her words made me feel.
And so I tried so hard to change. If I was always at an 11, I tried to tamp myself down to a four. I held my tongue when all I wanted to do was scream. When I felt bombarded with an emotion, I did whatever I could to suppress it, to push it down so far that maybe I wouldn’t feel it anymore. I’d suck in my stomach and hunch my shoulders and cross my legs as tightly as I could and try to shrink myself, to disappear if I could. I did everything I could to appear less than what I was — and for some reason, that’s genuinely what I wanted to be.
But here’s the thing about trying to change yourself to fit other people’s standards: You’ll never feel like yourself. Something will always be missing, even if you aren’t sure what it is. And as I tried so hard to fit into what I felt was acceptable, I realized I became less and less sure of who I was and more and more likely to let people treat me like I was inferior to them. I let them talk down to me because I believed the things they said. I let them get away with shitty things because, when I thought about it hard enough, it felt justified. Perhaps the worst part of all was that I thought I deserved it. I’d tricked myself into believing I was no longer too much but now too little, too small.
The truth is, deep down, I know that I am a lot. But what it took me so long to realize was that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Because when I let myself be exactly who I am, I become a woman who knows what she wants. I become a woman who feels big things, who allows herself to experience every emotion she encounters. I become a woman who doesn’t care that I don’t look like an actress or a model or the barista from my regular coffee shop that I’ve always been a little jealous of. I become a woman with so many thoughts and dreams and opinions, who’s unafraid to articulate them. I become a woman who reclaims every inch of space she had taken away from her and every piece that she willingly gave away.
And god, how I love that woman so wholeheartedly.
It was a long journey to embrace her again, filled with insecurities and doubts and a lot of self-hatred. It took a long time to stop caring about what everyone around me thought, because for the longest time, that was the only thing that mattered to me. But when the thing you let guide your life becomes the thing that stops you from fully experiencing it, maybe it’s time to recognize that it’s not as important as you always thought it was. After too many days of waking up feeling so small, so insignificant, so not enough, I realized the only way to make myself happy was to let myself be happy, even if that made other people uncomfortable. Even if that really meant being too much.
I don’t talk to my old roommate anymore. There are a lot of people who I don’t talk to anymore, people who preferred an altered version of myself over who I really am. People who only really liked that I made them feel bigger when I felt small. People who I decided to reclaim my space from, finally and permanently, even when they weren’t ready to give it back. Of course it was hard, and of course it was sad, but mostly it was freeing. I have never felt so fully alive.
I think the most important thing for a woman who takes up too much space to remember is that there are people in the world who will love you for exactly that, even if you don’t fully believe it. There are people in the world who will love feeling enveloped by who you are. There are people in the world who will relish every inch of you and never ask you to shrink yourself or become less than, who will never want you to be anyone else.
I see that now in the people in my life. I see it when I say something overdramatic or weird and my friend can only smirk and shake his head. “God,” he said once, “you’re too much.” But this time, it didn’t feel like an insult. There was so much affection in those words, so much warmth, as if to say, “And that is exactly the right amount.” And I know now that it is.
Maybe I’ll always be too much. Maybe I’ll always take up too much space. But maybe that space has always belonged to me.