A Beginner's Guide to Taking Up Space
"Don’t be afraid to ‘take up space.’”
It’s advice told time and time again, especially in moments where we’re overwhelmed by everything and everyone, and feeling particularly small or lost in the world. But what does that actually mean? How exactly does one take it on in the actual world? And what will it actually do for us in the long run?
Shonda Rhimes—television and entertainment extraordinaire—has answers. Rhimes taps into the concept of taking up space in everything she does, and it's part of her mission. She once said:
“Plenty of people will decide that you can’t do something. Plenty of people will decide that this room is not for you to be in. Your only job is for you to decide that every room you are in is a room that you belong in, and to remain there. I always think that’s the most important thing—to feel like you belong in every room you’re in.”
Every idea uttered in that quote is powerful, but there’s one particular idea that sums up the idea of taking space pretty well: The fact that you “decide that every room you are in is a room that you belong in.”
Like a lot of things in life, though, it takes confidence and an understanding of your power to walk into a room and know deep down that you belong.
But it's something well worth working towards. The amount of space you take up in all aspects of your life has an impact on people’s perceptions—but more importantly, it has an impact on how you feel on the inside and how you own your voice. And it starts with how you physically take up space and how you vocally take up space.
Taking Up Physical Space
Physically making a stance can directly translate into how we feel on the inside. Research shows that taking up space with your body can influence the confidence and power you feel IRL.
You might have heard of a concept called "power posing." Social psychologist Amy Cuddy popularized the “power pose” in a viral 2012 TED talk. In the talk, based on her own research, she suggests that the way we stand can make us feel more powerful, specifically if we stand in a Wonder Woman-esque “high power” pose (hands on the hips and feet shoulder-width apart).
Cuddy’s declarations were disputed, however, when other researchers tried duplicating the study. But in March this year, Cuddy released a new study with even more evidence that your pose impacts your brain. Bottom line: How you physically take up space can affect how you feel, and it's worth noticing.
Taking Up Space With Your Words
You deserve to take up space with your voice, too.
As novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains in her iconic speech, "We Should All Be Feminists": “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.”
She’s speaking more abstractly about feminism, but that portion of the powerful quote is a perfect reminder to unlearn the habit of withholding our opinions, ideas, and thoughts.
Taking up space means finding the strength to believe that your voice is valid.
But again, it's not something that can happen overnight. It's a muscle that takes flexing and finessing.
Taking up space can look different from person to person, but there are so many little things you can do to strengthen your voice and own space every day.
Here are a few ways you can start today:
As you brush your teeth...
Set the mood for the day by taking up physical space first. While you're brushing those pearly whites, try striking a power pose—shoulders back, hands on your hips, chest wide.
Feel yourself physically go from taking up less space to more space in your bathroom, and breathe into it.
In that meeting at work...
Before you head into the meeting, mentally give yourself permission to take up space. Remind yourself: Your voice and ideas are just as important as anyone else’s in that room.
Try snagging a seat at the table, and challenge yourself to speak up when a relevant thought or idea runs through your head. It can feel intimidating, but notice how everyone else speaking in the room is allowing themselves to take up space—you deserve to do the same. The same feeling can be applied to online meetings, too. If your days are full of Zoom calls, try asserting yourself when you feel comfortable and finding ways to ensure your ideas are heard. Maybe that means signaling when you have a thought you'd like to share, or using the chat feature to take up space and share in that way.
When you’re at the doctor’s office...
As tough as it can feel—especially if you're dealing with a chronic illness—the doctor's office is one of the most important spaces to speak up and advocate for yourself. It's your right to be assertive during an appointment.
Try starting appointments by sharing your goal for your time together (ex. "I want to better understand where this pain is coming from"), and stating your symptoms as facts that aren't up for debate.
If you’re on a date...
Even if you're flattered to be out with someone, remind yourself: Dating is a double opt-in. That means it's not just about the person liking you, but you standing up for yourself and what you need, too.
Whether you're dating online or going on a social-distance outing, remember that if your date says something that doesn't mesh well with what you think or believe—whether it's about you or the things you care about or value—you can try speaking up in a way that makes it clear where you stand. Yes, it might be awkward at first, but vocalizing your thoughts and feelings matters, especially when you're building a partnership.
Remember: Taking up space doesn't happen in leaps but in baby steps. There’s no shame in practicing the small ways you can assert yourself in different situations. Slowly but surely, you'll start to truly believe that you belong in every room you walk into.
Read next: How to Know—and Own—Your Needs
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