e x p a n s i o n
(rural routes to womanhood)

by s. ashleigh weeden

Much has been written about the ‘Age of Cities’ across our increasingly urbanized world. Such conversations often frame urban growth and rural decline as inevitable twin sides of contemporary compromise (assumptions that, too frequently, go unchallenged). As a rural woman, living in a fat body, I feel constricted and constrained by the demands of city structures and systems, as well as the rigid conceptions of what a femme body should look like. As a rural scholar, my work often feels ‘othered’ and outside/beyond urban imaginations – rural people and rural communities are romanticized and ridiculed in turn, rather than considered as unique onto themselves. The tension created by the existence of my fat femme body as a political object matches the tension I feel when challenging urbanist ideas and images of an ideal future as a rural researcher and advocate. Just as the body positive movement has co-opted the radical politics of the fat liberation movement, many celebrity urban planners and thought leaders have co-opted community development language that, in many ways, has rural roots. These dynamics rely on and exacerbate sharp divisions in terms of how we view and value space and place, and who has a right to those spaces and places. This poem connects the embodied experience of place and personhood and ‘taking up space’ by using imagery of a woman who refuses to be contained, but instead grows to embrace and encompass the world around her — she expands as her world expands. By stretching forwards and backwards through her being and her brilliance, she reaches the horizon and reshapes the landscape she loves through both her physical and emotional ties to the land. Providing mirrored imagery of a big-bodied woman interwoven with a vibrant rural landscape — woven together with the threads of womanhood and natural life-cycles — this piece reflects the tension and hope that fuel my work and fill my heart as a daughter, lover, friend, scholar, and woman devoted to imagining uniquely rural futures. 


I am a Big Woman

I am not supposed to exist anymore
let alone revel in my toes in the earth
while I’m here
(even others of my kind no longer recognize me as one of their own –
after years of their grind to conform to grids and lines)
my very being
in this big soft body
an act of resistance
original otherness

spacious, bodacious – unruly and uncontained –
claustrophobic in big cities
an outsider in an urbane age
arriving home to myself
on rural routes
mapped like the laugh lines on my face (so much like my mother’s)
that tell stories and promise journeys
all at once
only home in spaces and places where
e   x   p   a   n   d

Bawdy Broad
refuses to be limited by bad broadband –
instead, a one-woman band
playing to the universal sound
with bigger-than-byte-sized vibrance
proving the fallacy of a borderless world
by swallowing it whole
to create the pre-ordained
(never inevitable)
fully formed – full to bursting
unfathomable to those who cannot open their eyes as wide as wheat fields

Zeus’s favourite daughter
born of a mother of wit and wisdom
so powerful her name has been forgotten to history
swallowed whole by false g-ds and men trapped by their own (rib)cages
if only they could conceive

the world grows in direct relationship to my courage
like the muscles filled with the blood that built my bones
passed down through generations of
Big Women
who willed spaces and places into being through their expansive existence

(even when someone demanded they shrink)

feeding families
conceiving communities
from their fleshy fullness

Big Women
with broad shoulders
and backbones stronger than steel
built your city
but you’ve forgotten where you come from
cross-wired connections
creating fault-lines
where the front porch
used to welcome you home

but my square tipped fingers – so much like my father’s –
hold memories
and reach far and wide
heretical in a vertical world
that strives to be tall and thin like skyscrapers
rigid and fragile as glass
my work is to tend forgotten roots
both soft and solid
and build bridges
tethered together with arms like tree trunks
holding fast over watersheds that

but there is nothing sentimental
about empty barns
and fallow fields
no romance in broken windows
that whistle with the wind

nothing comes from nothing
so I resist the urge to paint the landscape
with waves of nostalgia for what might have never been
choosing instead to rearrange my atoms
becoming something new

my name will live forever
etched in the side of birch trees
and echoed in the giggles of creeks, cats, and raccoons
both the forest and the tree
(and the birds and the bees)
live in me
growing wild from a heart like the horizon
never diminished or demure
exploding like a supernova
or a field of summer canola

beyond city limits
and limitations

I am a Big Woman

S. Ashleigh Weeden is a Canadian rural futurist and feminist who splits her time between Ontario’s Bruce and Wellington counties. Her work is fundamentally concerned with place, power, and policy — and how these forces shape people’s lives, particularly in rural communities. A long-time advocate for place-based approaches that include embodied experiences of place as a powerful lens for creating effective public policy, Ashleigh has spent her career championing community-led innovation. Ashleigh is currently a doctoral candidate in Rural Studies in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development at the University of Guelph, where she works under the direction of Dr. Ryan Gibson, the Libro Professor in Regional Economic Development. Recognized as a thought leader on rural renewal and ‘the right to be rural,’ policy foresight, and public sector innovation, Ashleigh has provided expert commentary to outlets like Buzzfeed News, the Ryerson Review of Journalism, CBC News, CTV News, and several media outlets, and her work can be read in publications like The Conversation Canada, Policy Options, and Municipal World.