In the spring of 2013 at a college slam poetry invitational, a 20 year old sophomore named Lily decided, in the last 20 seconds before going onstage, to perform a poem she wrote about learning how to not take up too much space in the world, how to “filter,” how to accommodate. She’d noticed that she tended to start a lot of her questions in class with “Sorry,” and that the women in her family tended to “shrink” — to eat so little that they got smaller over time, while the men grew larger. So she wrote about it, and found the courage to say it aloud.
Watch her performance below or HERE.
Evidently the poem struck a nerve with some people. With a lot of people, actually, because it very quickly went viral and was viewed by more than 3 million people in less than a year’s time.
Here’s why we think it went viral…
We coach people every day who believe they should not show up “too loud” or “too big,” should not take up space, should apologize for their opinions. To be clear, these are educated, professional people who are in truth very, very competent.
And, while we meet men who do this, we find the issue to be far more common among women.
Lily talked about her poem and her observations in an interview with THE SISTERHOOD: “I used eating in this poem as a way to show a more ingrained way we shrink. Frustrated with ways I would shrink. I would not say something that was on my mind, not take control of a situation. I saw other women around me doing the same thing.”
We don’t pretend to know why so many people, women especially, feel they can’t show up as their authentic selves. Certainly cultural conditioning must play a role, and there is likely someone in the past who gave the message — unspoken or overtly — that they needed to watch their step, not show up with authority.
What we do know is how to help people find their way to step into their personal power by becoming more of who they are — their authentic self — and by showing up in a way that shares power with others in what we call “PARTNER” mode.
The first step is to be willing to speak up. Like Lily did. Except, she almost didn’t.
As she told Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson of the PBS show HERE & NOW, “I hadn’t decided that I was going to read that poem until about 20 seconds before I went onstage. Actually, you can – I’m closing my eyes at the beginning….And I’m kind of deciding.”
Yes, we saw you doing that Lily. What was the hesitation about? “I was feeling small at the time… and I was thinking, “People are going to think that I don’t like men.”
Well, you see, there’s the classic dilemma for strong smart women. Do you speak up and risk being seen as “pushy,” “opinionated,” and “strident?” Or do you hold your tongue and come across as “weak,” “timid,” or “wishy-washy” and “too accommodating?” You do have another option: “Partner” — respecting others’ opinions as strongly as you respect your own. And being courageous enough to voice those opinions without putting yourself or the other person down.
She said this about her decision to go ahead: “….one of my very best friends, who is a very inspirational poet and was our slam coach, really encouraged me to do this poem. She was like, Lily, you just need to do it. This is what people need to hear.”
Since the video went viral, Lily reports that she’s heard from people all over the world with whom it struck a chord. And she told her NPR interviewers it’s making a difference for her, too. “More day-to-day, I find myself speaking up a lot more when I’m uncomfortable. I say it now because it’s true. I didn’t use to identify as a feminist because people don’t like that word or judge, but now I think it means equal rights for everyone and I’m not going to apologize. It feels good to not shrink anymore in that way.”
We are so pleased for Lily and wish her all the best. She continues to write and explore the world, saying: “I write a lot about women or growing up as a woman, the contradictions and challenges, but also the joy. It’s a theme I find endlessly interesting.”
You can find her writing and more on her blog, THE SHAPES WE MAKE, created with her colleague Kate. They note that “Lily is an accomplished slam poet, beautiful singer, and wonderful starfruit” while “Kate is a graceful dancer, published novella author, and radiant strawberry.”
Don’t ever shrink, Lily and Kate. Dare to be big!