Sonya Renee Taylor’s ‘The Body Is Not An Apology’: Unlocking the radical self-love that is already ours
I was making peace with my body, as though I pitied it and believed it did not really deserve the love that it sought.
by Josie Pickens
Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love is equal parts self-help guide and interrogating conversation about body shaming and body terrorism. Taylor’s premise is that if we stop terrorizing our own bodies, we will feel obligated to not only stop terrorizing the bodies others, but to radically demand that all bodies (whether they be able or disabled, queer or straight, fat or thin) be free from terror.
It is a necessary read for every one of us who is trapped (or has been trapped) in an abusive relationship with our bodies, but the reader must be prepared for the ugly, hidden, hurting parts of themselves that will be uncovered as Taylor pulls back the layers hindering us from radical self-love. I was not ready.
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And what is radical self-love?
Taylor begins the process of defining radical self-love by explaining to us what it is not. For instance, it is not synonymous with one’s self-esteem, or confidence, or even self-acceptance. Loving ourselves radically, instead, happens only when we open ourselves up to experiencing what author Marianne Williamson calls natural intelligence.
According to Taylor, natural intelligence “intends that everything become the highest form of itself and designs us accordingly.” What is blocking us from our highest self, which is already within us, is our inability to love ourselves radically enough to allow ourselves to be great.
Before reading Taylor’s book, I certainly believed I was further along in this journey towards self-love than I actually am. I imagined that I had healed most of the issues I have with my body. After all, I no longer jump when a lover gently caresses my round belly. I have even begun wandering out into the world without wearing foundation to conceal the hereditary dark circles around my eyes and the annoying skin discoloration under my bottom lip.
I can still name all of the imperfections I notice when I look in the mirror, but at least I no longer despise them. I was not loving my body, though; I was only accepting it. I was making peace with my body, as though I pitied it and believed it did not really deserve the love that it sought.
It makes sense that I was in such a tumultuous relationship with my body. This country, this world, reminds me daily that it has no intention of making space for me and that it will react—likely violently—when I demand that space be made.
Speaking of these constant threats of violence Taylor asserts, “Living in a female body, a Black body, an aging body, a fat body, a body with mental illness is to awaken daily to a planet that expects a certain set of apologies to already live on our tongues… For so many of us, sorry has become how we translate the word body” (11).
But what if we stopped?
What if we stopped making apologies for who we are, today, as we stand? Taylor believes that we would then have peace—peace with our own bodies, peace with the different ways that other bodies show up in the world, and peace in knowing that we don’t have to understand someone else’s body in order to accept it and make space for it to exist terror free.
We would stop using “poodle science” to determine which bodies are good and bad, or healthy and unhealthy. And we would stop pretending like we care about the bodies of complete strangers, because we want others to feel as bad (or worse) about their bodies as (or than) we do. What we would do is recognize that our “relationships with our bodies are social, political, and economic inheritances” (21-22).
The Body Is Not and Apology offers its reader a well-researched argument revealing media and advertising’s investment in body terrorism. Taylor asks, “How do your multiple identities affect each other?” and “How has body shame fueled your consumerism?”
The author requires that we focus, as well, on the ways bodies are harmed under systems of oppression. She lays out these facts for us: there are a number of countries in the world where a person can be sentenced to death for being gay, immigrants can be deported in New Zealand if their BMI is over 35, female inmates in California prisons were forcibly sterilized until 2010 (with most victims being inmates of color- of course), and Greece still has forced HIV testing and landlords can evict renters who are HIV positive (46-48). Taylor then brings us back to the work we must do on ourselves and how it will vibrate outward to help imagine and create a world where these kinds of systems of oppression are eradicated.
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The book ultimately argues that in order to achieve radical self-love we must be committed to becoming intimately connected to our thoughts, be willing to release those thoughts that are toxic, be devoted to taking action beyond knowing how to heal our minds and bodies, and above all be compassionate to ourselves—and to others—as we all continue learning to radically love ourselves in the ways that we deserve. Although the journey that we all are on is a challenging one, Sonya Renee Taylor inspires us to remember that we are worth it.
We are more than enough.
We are the lover some of us have been waiting our entire lives for.
And we were right here all along.
Josie Pickens is a professor, cultural critic, writer and griot. Follow her on Twitter at @jonubian.