When I Talk About About Taking Up Space

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This is my personal conclusion to the series of interviews I conducted for Polyester, ‘Collective Practices- Making Space For Female Creativity’. The story of how I came to write these and the struggles surrounding women and the spaces in which they reside.

When I talk about taking up space, I don’t just mean literal space, space in a room or on a couch. Although that goes hand in hand with the space I am talking about, I mean space as a more abstract idea. Right now, typing these words I am taking up space on my screen. If you are reading this I am taking up space on your screen, I am also taking up space in your mind, and taking up space in your day. The time it takes you to read this is space in your life you have given me. And that fills me with unease. This unease has been passed down to me through generations of women, women afraid of their own space and even more afraid of taking up someone else’s space.

My obsession with the idea of space started a few years ago, right on queue with the peak of my anxiety. It has taken me some time to connect the dots, to realise that they are entwined together and probably always will be. I panic when I feel trapped; I went for months not stepping on a bus or train. Claustrophobia would rear its ugly head at the sight of any closed door. I spent most of my time checking for the closest exits, and the quickest route to get me out. For a long time I concluded I just didn’t like being trapped. Nothing too deep, just plain and simple claustrophobia. Then, when asked by my therapist to delve deeper, I came to realise I was not scared of the idea of being trapped. Instead my most dreaded fear was taking up space. My fear of having a panic attack and bringing any attention to myself, or god forbid inflicting my own terror on to some one else’s day, would be the worst thing to ever happen. Of course with the lack of places to run and disappear, confined spaces were the worst environments for this to happen. In conclusion, I fear taking back the space I have been taught to give up, I fear taking up space that is rightfully mine.

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Even writing this fills me with a sense of anxiety, what right do I have to say these things, who really cares and why would they? Then I tell my anxiety to shut the hell up, because I do not want to shrink. I want to take back all the space that has been taken from me. I want to be a woman with a large belly and an even larger laugh. I want my presence to take up as much room as possible, belly, hips and thighs. I want to daydream about adventures past and future, better yet, tell the world of my adventures. But unlearning a life’s lesson is harder than shrinking back into the abyss. This is where collectives and communities come in. Because ten voices are louder than one, because ten kick ass women can create their own spaces by supporting each other and working together.

The women and collectives I interviewed prove this point. Collectives like Shabby Doll House, OOMK, Smart Girls Club, Art Baby Gallery and the women within them. Also those I sadly did not get the chance to interview, Chappess Zine, Coalition Zine and movements like Art Ho, are creating more and more space and they deserve to be heard. They deserve to be taken seriously; they deserve every inch of space they have taken. They give voices to young women, to women of colour, and to LGBT communities. They take back the space for everyone who has been taught to shrink for so long been. Each one allowing the other to take up as much space as possible, because really the space they deserve is infinite.

So the next time I smell that rotten whiff of anxiety on the bus, I will smile and welcome it, then say a big fuck you (and then thank you) to the soul who has to make space in their day to listen to my anxious babbling. Because I, like all of us, deserve that space and am going to start taking it.


Words by Ella Sweeney

Illustration by Georgia Haire

Catch up with the Collective Practises series here.