Your potential cannot be pressed between thumb and forefinger anymore

Tanya Alden-Zeter
4 min readMar 24, 2021

Don’t wait for permission or approval

Don’t let ghostly question marks haunt the ends of your sentences

You don’t always have to be the one laughing at the jokes

You can make them too

Not just about diets or sex or tampons.

You are not the wing-tipped tick on a quota list

the beating footnote on a final page

the decorative nod to equality on the stage

Push at at the brackets choking your voice

Your potential will no longer be pressed between thumb and forefinger any more.

Take up space.

It’s the poem Take Up Space by Vanessa Kisuule.

It’s the book by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi — Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto For Change — published in 2019 not only as an essential guide to university for women of colour, but also as an eye-opener to the lack of diversity in our education system, and of course a manifesto for change.

It’s the research by Amy Cuddy on power poses and their physiological, empowering, long-term effects, in THAT Ted talk. Her experimental data denoting clear differences in cortisol and testosterone levels after holding a range of ‘high power’ vs ‘low power’ poses for 2 minutes have been disputed then refuted, and then again — and the debate continues.

Nonverbal communication has been shown to carry between 65% and 93% more impact than actual words spoken

Regardless of where you stand on the Amy Cuddy debate or of your familiarity with the works of Vanessa Kisuule, Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi, the idea of taking up space in this world — and how allowing ourselves to physically, intellectually and spiritually stretch — goes much further than the idea of power poses. Body language makes an impact that is up to 93% more powerful than any language we may choose. This makes it an irrefutable means of communication and of interaction; inevitably leading to (largely subconscious) interpretation, judgement and inferences.

But owning our space can manifest via many shapes, forms and behaviours. And daring to take up a little more of it is a positive thing. What if we all got a little more conscious about it? Then used it to design our environment and our reality? Perhaps we’d feel more confident, find something we never knew we needed, or meet a connection who can help open new doors. The possibilities!

I put this to a number of people, asking them what taking up space in this (their!) world meant to them. Here’s what I got:

“It means never apologising when you’ve nothing to be sorry for.”

“I breathe PROPERLY (and quite loudly) in my yoga classes. And make the poses as elongated as possible. It just feels so much more worth it.”

“Shouting from my bike so that people see me. Pedestrians/cars/bikes alike.”

“No longer being afraid of sharing my emotions and reactions to things. Not having to apologise for how I feel, because I’m entitled to those, even if others think I shouldn’t feel that way. But if I’m honest I prefer not being seen and taking up as little space as I can and I’m totally trying to be better at this. But I found this a tough question to answer.”

“If you’re happy, show it and be loud 💪🏼 — dare to sing, dance, skip, hop — it’ll make others feel good too!”

“Shoulders down, chin up when I’m on my daily stroll.”

“Love a stretch / power pose combo pre-Zoom call, pre-Zoom interview, pre-power hour.”

“It’s speaking up in that conversation despite your non-expert opinion…”

“It’s riding my bike actually in the road, where I am supposed to, not cowering in the gutter!”

“Regularly reaching out to those I know and people I just want to know — plus those I want to know about ME.”

“I think it’s about articulating your achievements and strengths regularly — to yourself and to others.”

“Putting yourself, your business, your service or your content out there for people to get to know and engage with.”

“It’s talking about what you’re doing right now with passion and honesty.”

“Allow yourself to disagree with the status quo — and say it out loud.”

“I’m inviting myself to places where I know I can add value, or if not, at least learn.”

When we stretch and expand ourselves out of our cosy zone, the return is almost always learning, growth and opportunity. Take the person above who talks about cycling; they HATED the idea of riding city roads on a bike because the thought of sharing the road with buses and dangerous drivers filled them with fear. Fast forward — and after months of acting confidently and assertively to ensure they feel visible and safe, they are 2 duathlons down with another event upcoming.

Okay, so holding a power pose a handful of times for 2 minutes may not change the course of our lives beyond our wildest dreams. However, we all know that minor, habitual changes to our behaviour over significant time really can transform our lives. Small actions with big meaning lead to shifts within our individual lives, and to systemic change on a societal scale. For me, it’s daring to take up someone’s time for a little while. It’s taking up something I don’t think I’ll immediately excel at. It’s taking MY time and not rushing out of others’ way.

It’s taking. Up. Space.

Let’s keep this conversation going?