You Deserve to Take Up Space — Both In and Out of The Gym

Here are five simple steps to empower you today.

woman helping woman stretch


I will never forget the time when one of my 5k coaching clients, Sarah, shared a turning point with me.  She told me that while out during one of her training runs, she had a pivotal moment.  Sarah had always stepped her bigger body out of the way when people approached her on the sidewalks and pathways. She tried to make herself small — almost apologetic in demeanor —for her larger body taking up valuable space. The very act of running fat disrupts our thoughts, views, and perceptions of what it means to be a runner. 

Even though, most of the time, her body language while running bellowed, “Don’t notice me –– I am not here,” she was still out there braving the pavement, risking callouts by passing cars, looks of surprise and sometimes condescending remarks, in the guise of unwanted “support.” After running for several months, one day was different. Sarah’s automatic reaction to shrink and step off the sidewalk for others to pass, took a turn. She shared that two women were coming toward her and clearly were not going to move out of the way. For the first time in her life, she powered through and did not step aside, she came upon them so forcefully they had to quickly move off the sidewalk. It was at that moment, I knew, Sarah had crossed a threshold and there would be no turning back, she had made a pinnacle turn in her fitness journey but also as a fat woman –– she was ready to take up space.

To many people the simple act of taking up space may seem trivial; the difficult part is that it’s not a simple act to people who must fight to be seen in our culture. 

 Sarah was disrupting our running culture by running in a fat body, and because we don’t often see any representations of fat people running, or in gym spaces, in our media and advertising messages, this creates static and tension with the “norm” –– not just within our society but also within the individual.  The disruption and friction that faces inward, also known as internalized weight bias, is often what constructs the fear of taking up space.  This lack of visibility is a catalyst in the lack of belonging so many people feel.  It creates weight bias and anti-fatness amongst our communities, but also drives deep inside our own belief systems, resulting in a fear of being present and taking up space.  This has extremely negative consequences to the health outcomes of many people. 

 Unfortunately, I would love to tell you that Sarah’s story is unique but it’s not.  I have heard it countless times by people who are afraid to enter athletic communities and gym spaces because they feel that they don’t belong.  The risk of failure, shameful remarks, unwanted advice is too much to gamble.

The great news is the future of fitness is inclusive.  There are dedicated people creating wellness and fitness spaces that allow people to feel included, take up space, and reach their potential at every size.  The fitness industry, in some pockets, is starting to lean toward weight neutrality and this is a game-changer for those who feel “othered” in larger bodies in fitness spaces. Of course, real change takes time, but with some due diligence, you can find spaces to spread your wings and take up the space you deserve.   

Here are 5 steps to set yourself up for success:

 1.  Ditch The Dialogue

First, internalized weight bias needs to be acknowledged and processed and this unpacking is a journey, not a sprint. You may need additional professional help to do this, but here are some affirmations to start the process and practice in your morning routine.

Look in the mirror and say the following each day until you really start to believe it:

I am re-writing my fitness story to be a more positive one.
I am worthy of taking up space.
I deserve to move my body freely and safely.
I surround myself with positive people and places where I can sweat, move, and triumph.
I trust my body and my abilities to move and feel good on my terms.
My well-being has value, and I strive to advocate for what I deserve.
I am an athlete.'
I deserve to take up space.

2.  Do your Due Diligence

 At first, taking up space takes grit and pushes the boundaries of our confidence threshold.  Taking up space is liberating and essential to our growth, but you may want to first practice this in places that feel safe. If you are looking for inclusive spaces, the best way to assess the situation is to go to the website and their social media platforms.  It will be very clear by how they represent their business and services if they are inclusive or not.  Some things to consider:

Do they show bodies like yours in the imagery?

What is the overall vibe of the brand — hardcore, ripped, intense?  Or welcoming, diverse, doable?

Do they use language such as, everyone is included, health at every size or (HAES), inclusive, body positive, fat positive?

Does their team of trainers demonstrate diversity?  Do their trainer bios include any language or specialized training that feels inclusive?

Does the pro shop carry merchandise in your size?

These are some tip-offs of how inclusive the space is and therefore, how comfortable you may feel in their space.  You may even interview a trainer ahead of time to see if they are a good fit.  Do your homework!

3.  Build your Muscle

Taking up space isn’t something that happens overnight.  Like with Sarah, it is a process and builds concurrently with confidence.  The reality of building confidence is that it’s done in action.  We cannot build confidence or our ability to take up space from the sidelines.  That isn’t to say on the first day, get right in there at the squat rack with the heaviest weight on the bar.  It’s a step-by-step process. You may start by taking some classes, then, using other parts of the gym, until one day you feel like you own the place.  Confidence is like building muscle and requires challenging our fears, but you can do it, one step at a time.

4.  Advocate for Yourself

 With confidence, we develop our voice, and advocating for ourselves vocally can allow us to take up space.  It’s time to challenge our fitness industry’s shortcomings.  Here are some ideas when you need a place to start:

 That specific move doesn’t work for my body, can you offer an alternative?

 I really enjoy this class, but the tempo isn’t right for me. Can you offer alternatives that are workable for all participants?

I’d love to represent this gym; I am wondering when you will be bringing in sizing for merchandise for all members?

I’d really love to work my hamstrings, but the prone leg curl isn’t right for me, let’s look at an alternative, okay?

I love that this gym offers a towel service, however, may I suggest offering some larger towels to accommodate all members.

Using our voices is a radical act of taking up space, getting your needs met and building the confidence muscle.

5.  Live Big

Don’t step aside, be Sarah.  It’s a process, but I promise you when you follow these steps you will be astonished at the changes you will see in yourself and how other people treat you.  It’s less than ideal that we need a guidebook on taking up space when much of the population just expects it.  But living big and taking up space can be challenging when you’re living in a larger body and seldom see examples of fat women living unapologetically.  Know that pushing your comfort zone in this regard opens doors for you but also for people who come after you.  If you advocate for the gym pro shop to carry your size, that’s one less lift for any person who comes in after you.  Remember, change takes time, but we have a responsibility to stand up and take up space for our well-being and for others who follow. 

That’s what I want for you, because when you do, you will fly like never before.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles