Since reading Sonya Renee Taylor’s book The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love and writing this post a little over a year ago, I have been keeping my finger on Taylor’s pulse, a pulse I value and need as I work to hold myself accountable and better understand systemic racism. (I highly recommend her recent TEDx talk Let’s Replace Cancel Culture with Accountability.)
After Derek Chauvin was found guilty this past April, Taylor’s organization, also named The Body Is Not An Apology, stated on its Facebook page:
“In @SonyaReneeTaylor’s second to most recent video, “Justice Cannot Be Found in the Derek Chauvin Trial”, she asks us to carefully examine what justice for Black folks looks like in the US, why a temporary reprieve from the gaslighting is not a synonym for justice, and what real justice would actually look like. May this conversation orient us continually towards the path of liberation.”
Taylor herself stated:
“We can take some solace in this one respite where the system isn’t gaslighting us but, please understand that it plans to continue to do so. Ad nauseam. In perpetuity. Until we create something different.”
That’s what Taylor is about: “creating something different.” If you’re not familiar with Taylor and her work, please read on…
You say you want a revolution? You’ve got what it takes to make it happen. You’ve got a body and that is a place to start.
A while back I was scrolling on Facebook when I came across a post by Brene Brown. A fan of Brown and her work, and moved by the message, I liked it and shared it.
Moments later a friend informed me that the post was not written by Brene Brown, rather by Sonya Renee Taylor. I googled Taylor, since I had never heard of her. I am forever grateful for this discovery.
By the way, when this was brought to Brown’s attention, she had this to say on Twitter: “I’ve seen this attributed to me, but it’s not my quote. After investigating, we found the original – it belongs to the writer, Sonya Renee Taylor. When sharing these beautiful and powerful words – please use this image with her name. Attribution matters.” Boy, does it ever.
With the continued racial struggles in the United States so blatantly illuminated again, many of us are feeling disheartened and frustrated. We want to do something but are not sure what. We, black, brown, and white, have taken to the streets to protest and demand change. Along with some of my white friends and family, I’m reading books to educate myself on how to be actively antiracist.
And having discovered Sonya Renee Taylor just before this latest atrocity of police brutality against black people, I’m finding her approach to creating a more just world poignant and useful.
Through her movement and her writing, Taylor teaches what it means to radically love yourself and how to get there. By practicing radical self-love, we start a revolution from the inside out, with a ripple effect that can make a lasting difference.
Taylor’s book, The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love addresses the structures that make most of us feel that our bodies are flawed in some serious ways: “Living in a female body, a Black body, an aging body, a fat body, a body with a mental illness is to awaken daily to a planet that expects a certain set of apologies to already live on our tongues”(11).
Taylor reminds us that we are not flawed and owe no apology for who we are.
But, we wonder, how can something so personal, such as loving and accepting ourselves, be connected to something so massive, such as equality and peace? Taylor explains that radical self-love goes beyond what we know as body positivity. It is wider and deeper in its mission and impact.
“In this blossoming age of “body positivity,” it is trendy to profess our undying body love. We treat body positivity as though it is a trophy we can only receive when we reach some state of self-love enlightenment”(36).
Body positivity, where we try desperately to convince ourselves that we’re okay, is different than radical self-love, which is a return to our inherent worth. When we understand what this really means, we are able to move from the personal to the bigger issues with self-knowledge and conviction.
“Racism, sexism, ableism, homo-and transphobia, ageism, fatphobia are algorithms created by humans’ struggle to make peace with the body. A radical self-love world is a world free from the systems of oppression that make it difficult and sometimes deadly to live in our bodies”(4).
The word radical is one Taylor deliberately chose to describe this self-love revolution:
“Using the term radical elevates the reality that our society requires a drastic political, economic, and social reformation in the ways in which we deal with bodies and body differences”(7).
I agree with Taylor that radical is called for, especially at this pivotal point in time. Where and how does my body fit in this unjust, painful puzzle, and how can I reposition myself economically, politically, and socially to contribute to a much-needed shift?
“As has been true throughout history, changing the systematic and structural oppressions that regard us in perfunctory and myopic ways requires sweeping changes in our laws, policies, and social norms. Creating a world of justice for all bodies demands that we be radical and intersectional”(9).
Body shame is a major player in oppression and it is big business too. We’re manipulated into believing our bodies are unacceptable and are convinced to invest in a fix, or many, many fixes. But we’re not broken, we are “pawns in a much longer and larger game of how we have all come to understand, judge, value, or devalue our bodies and the bodies of others”(37).
We spend a boodle to try to increase our worth: “Earnings for the global beauty market reached an epic $460 billion in 2014, and are expected to reach $675 billion by 2020”(39-40).
I have spent thousands over my lifetime purchasing beauty products, diet programs, self-help books, and more, all in the hopes of creating a better-looking body, one that might move up the scale of acceptability. As I did this, I looked around and sized up others as well. This limiting and divisive viewpoint of where the self stands in line with others is harmful.
“Across gender, sexual orientation, race, size, age, and ability level, our systems are constantly affirming or denouncing bodies, communicating to us what we should and should not consider valid about other people’s bodies while simultaneously detailing for us what we should and should not accept about our own”(52).
This is behavior that most of us would never consciously engage in, and radical self-love as an antidote to this indoctrination can be effective.
As part of this move to radical self-love, Taylor encourages us to be “best-interest” buyers, questioning our motives, challenging us to step away from the myth that has us believe that products will somehow make up for our perceived deficits.
“Best-interest buying is a model that asks us to allow our economic investments, whether they be lattes, lipstick, neckties, or stock portfolios, to reflect our commitment to radical self-love for our own lives and the lives of others. Best-interest buying furthers our radical self-love journey by connecting how we spend our resources with what we truly want for our lives, not simply in the short term to avoid feelings of not being “enough””(43).
By practicing radical self-love, we become more aware of the systems that we’re up against. We are empowered to question our thoughts and seriously consider our motives. As we tune in and opt-out, we can see more clearly what is going on and be more prepared to recognize something that feels like it’s designed to keep us or someone in their place. When we no longer accept the notion that our own bodies are faulty, we’re less apt to tolerate others being treated as if theirs are.
“The framework of radical self-love seeks to engage people in the process of individual transformation. But as importantly it seeks to dismantle the structurally and systemic emotional, psychological, and physical violence meted out against “different” bodies all over the planet. It serves those who profit from our self-hatred to minimize its impact and disconnect it from the larger social framework of violence and intimidation that allows oppression and injustice to thrive.
“Discrimination, social inequality, and injustice are manifestations of our inability to make peace with the body: our own and others’. By making these connections we build the foundation to foster a world of radical, unapologetic self-love, which translates to radical human action in the service of a more just and compassionate world”(56).
Making the transition to radical self-love is hard, constant work. Taylor guides us through self-reflection and inquiry exercises throughout the book and a toolkit with Ten Tools for Radical Self-Love toward the end of the book.
One Radical Reflection that Taylor provides is,
“Our beliefs about bodies disproportionately impact those whose race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and age deviate from our default notions. The further from the default, the greater the impact. We are all affected – but not equally”(51).
This reflection points out the hierarchy of value placed on bodies in our country. I know as an able-bodied, heterosexual white woman I am safer and more valued by default. I reject this system that ranks us and pits us against one another and by examining this system, how it operates, and its impact on me and others, I will no longer buy into it. When I encounter it, I am challenging myself to speak up.
One Unapologetic Inquiry asks:
“Can you recall an incident when you felt a sense of terror about being in your body? What did you do to navigate that feeling?”(55)
Yes, I have. As a woman, I have been seen as vulnerable walking alone and have been groped and chased. I was able to escape, but no longer walk alone at dusk and after dark. And as I write this, I think of the many black people who say they frequently feel vulnerable in their bodies, especially black women and black trans women. Tragic, infuriating scenarios and statistics provide valid reasons for this fear. This must stop and collectively we are calling for overdue change now.
Tool 9 of the 10 Tools Taylor provides in the book is Be in a Community. Taylor says,
“It is in community that our stories are held up to the light of connection and we begin to see clearly how we are having a shared experience of being human with other humans – stories, fears, fog, and all…It is critical we find communities of care and compassion. In their absence, we are relegated to an echo chamber of pathological body hatred and oppression. Radical self-love environments are all around us, and thanks to the power of technology we can find people all over the world who are committed to interrupting body shame. Hint: www.TheBodyIsNotAnApology.com is a fabulous place to start!”(113)
And indeed it is! Also, the community being created now through the protests across our country is community we must sustain! There is unity there and it’s creating great power to force structural change.
In addition to everything else, Taylor is a poet and spoken word artist. We can listen to her performances on YouTube, along with her 2016 TED talk, for inspiration and continued momentum.
Oh, and here’s Taylor’s post that was misattributed to Brene Brown:
Sonya Renee Taylor is a #NastyWomanWriter and Activist.
© Maria Dintino 2020
Taylor, Sonya Renee. The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2018.