2013 Fall External Programs Kira Billman Spain

Grow Toward Me

Being without the usual comforts of home, whether it’s similarly sized people, or my language has forced me to grow in unexpected ways. Before I left, I suppose I imagined changing in fundamental, earth shattering ways that would change me forever. But instead, I have found myself forced to accept myself in my original form.

I can’t speak for all women. But I don’t like feeling large. I try to stand toward the back of photos, or in the middle of friends in an effort to shrink. I’m not sure why I feel so compelled to take up less space. Feminists might say taking up space is associated with power, and power is a masculine trait. A media analysis might suggest I suffer from poor body image, created by being bombarded with images of impossibly thin women.

In the States I never noticed my tenancy to fall back, or push to the middle. I’m a pretty averaged sized American, but I am not an average sized Spaniard. The Spanish are a small people. Since you may never have been to Spain, I want to clarify what small means. Small does not mean skinny. Small means small. Spaniards are proportional to the mode (most common) American. But they’re shorter, and thus thinner as well.

I often feel as though I don’t quite fit in Spain. My hips and shoulders tend to over reach the boundary of the seats on public transit, and without even thinking about it, I slouch forward to shrink. Wearing flats I’m only slightly taller than the average height (of both men and women). But I put on boots with a small heal and suddenly I’m towering over everybody. I slouch forward to apologize and my friend snaps a picture of us walking down a Spanish street.

I untagged myself from that picture so fast it didn’t even have time to load. It was one of those horribly unflattering pictures that makes you question your most fundamental believes about what you look like. It was a picture that made me realize, I’m here, I take up space, so I might as well own it. When I stand up straight I might not look smaller, but I do look better.

I was brought face-to-face with “me” through the eyes of a foreign city. I tried to blend when you really don’t, is to stand out. If you stand out enough people stop thinking of it as standing out. Or maybe they don’t but I don’t care because I’m here to stand out.


In America, I consider myself fairly well spoken. In English I have at least eight ways to say yes. Each one, I’m familiar with and know within a close approximation how you will perceive it. Language comes easily to me, thus I’ve always been able to control how I’m perceived with a fairly high degree of accuracy.

In Spanish, I’m lucky if I have one word that fits the situation. But I have found it matters much less than I thought. Yes, I have lost the ability to control how I am perceived, but that is not the same as the ability to express yourself. I’m not sure what a personality is, but I know it’s bigger than a vocabulary, more complex than grammar. It’s hard for a writer to be confronted with the idea that life can’t fit into words. But that’s what I’ve found in Spain. Perhaps the most genuine expression of yourself is the one said with the least words?

I’m coming to believe in vibes; I have met Spaniards with whom I can barely communicate, and yet knew instantly we’d get along. If I had to translate the joke, I couldn’t. But it was still funny. There’s no way to logically explain the friendship, except that we get each other, we’re on the same page, I dig their vibe.

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