Small :: An Embracing Gray Essay

by - February 08, 2018

Early on, I learned to make myself small.

I learned it through layers and repetition, slowly, in a million little ways.

I order my meal with the word "just" in front of it: "I'll just have the grilled chicken."

I apologize too quickly and for things that need no apology. "I'm sorry, could you pass the salt and pepper?" When I bump into someone in the hallway at work, it's always, "I'm sorry," and never "Excuse me."

I eat the leftovers. I play the board games with the pawn nobody wants. I go last and acquiesce to what the other person wants to do, where they want to go, what they want to talk about.

This is not a complaint, because if it were anything other than this way of compliance and chameleon camouflage, I'd be terribly uncomfortable.

I make just a quick announcement at church, sorry to take up precious time in the service as if I'm the hidden stepchild instead of the pastor's wife and the women's ministry leader.

So as not to bring attention to myself, I opt to go along with the prevailing opinion rather than to have a mind of my own. I am thankful for whatever is offered me, not wanting to be a burden. I am praised for being demur, peaceable, and quietly submissive.

Being introverted and shying away from controversy and conflict play right into this small way of life I have made.

I make myself as invisible as possible, discounting and dismissing myself time and time again. "Oh, no problem. Maybe next time."


Roxane Gay's book Bad Feminist was on the Campus Bestseller display table for months when I managed a university bookstore. The title intrigued me.

I picked up somewhere along the way a vague notion that feminism was bad, although I can't tell you why. I never talked about feminism or knew anyone who claimed to be a feminist. Maybe it was the rebellious nature intrinsic in feminism that cast it in a bad light for me, and I dutifully kept my distance.

What can I say? I grew up in the South under the tutelage of classy, polite, graceful, and poised female family members as role models. These are the women I love.

There wasn't a single Steel Magnolia in my life until the movie when I was new bride of 20. To date at that point in my life, those six fictitious characters were the only examples I had of unruly, unapologetic, subtly rebellious women who didn't have it all together but would die (or kill) trying to figure life out. There was nothing "just" about any of them. They were large and weighty and loveable.

But I went right back to my life and cultural norm of quiet, small, invisible.

Until Gay's book title intrigued me. Did it support feminism or not? Is a bad feminist good? What, exactly, is a bad feminist?

I never read the book -- again, too complicit to venture outside my lane.

But I did read Gay's next book, Hunger: A Memoir of My Body. Gay is a very different person than me with very different values, beliefs, and life experiences. But the writing was good, and I stayed with it. I am learning there is value in reading things I don't always agree with and hearing out an alternate point of view.

The book is Gay's statement on her relationship with her obesity. One of her coping mechanisms involved overeating purposefully, in order to become large, after she was gang raped as a girl. "I needed to take up space," she says.

After I read those words and the many ways -- both healthy and not -- Gay lived in the aftermath of being sexually assaulted, her notion of not wanting to be small still resonates in me.

The concept has taken its time to do its work, my paradigm still shifting, but I'm ready to be large, or at least the right size. Not in stature like Gay, but in value. I'm ready to value myself as equal to the value I afford others.

I'm ready to breathe the air and require resources. I'm ready for my words to have weight, my voice to be heard, my thoughts, desires, and needs to be valid. I'm ready to take up due space and time and consideration. All without apology or just as a qualifier.

I've diminished myself out of expectation, real or perceived, and it's wrong. I am finished being stingy toward myself, while generous towards others, which I have mistakenly done out of a desire to be feminine and humble. It is neither.

I am a full human being. I may have a lot of unlearning to do, but when God made humanity, he stepped back and evaluated his day's work and said it was very good. He gave his crowning creation a greater glory, which is to say he gave them weight. I'm ready to do the same.

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  1. Wow, I so resonate with this Dawn. Beautifully written and honest. Looking forward to conversation with you.


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