—Kimberlé Crenshaw, legal scholar and founder and Executive Director, African American Policy Forum
Humans are a varied and divergent bunch with all manner of beliefs, morals, and bodies. Systems of oppression thrive off our inability to make peace with difference and injure the relationship we have with our own bodies.
The Body Is Not an Apology offers radical self-love as the balm to heal the wounds inflicted by these violent systems. World-renowned activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor invites us to reconnect with the radical origins of our minds and bodies and celebrate our collective, enduring strength. As we awaken to our own indoctrinated body shame, we feel inspired to awaken others and to interrupt the systems that perpetuate body shame and oppression against all bodies. When we act from this truth on a global scale, we usher in the transformative opportunity of radical self-love, which is the opportunity for a more just, equitable, and compassionate world—for us all.
This second edition includes stories from Taylor's travels around the world combating body terrorism and shines a light on the path toward liberation guided by love. In a brand new final chapter, she offers specific tools, actions, and resources for confronting racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia. And she provides a case study showing how radical self-love not only dismantles shame and self-loathing in us but has the power to dismantle entire systems of injustice. Together with the accompanying workbook, Your Body Is Not an Apology, Taylor brings the practice of radical self-love to life.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Making Self-Love Radical
What Radical Self-Love Is and What It Ain't
Let me answer a couple of questions right away before you dig too deeply into this book and are left feeling bamboozled and hoodwinked. First, "Will this book fix my self-esteem, Sonya?" Nope. Second, "Will this book teach me how to have self-confidence?" Nah. Impromptu third question, "Well then why in Hades am I reading this book?" You are reading this book because your heart is calling you toward something exponentially more magnanimous and more succulent than self-esteem or self-confidence. You are being called toward radical self-love. While not completely unrelated to self-esteem or self-confidence, radical self-love is its own entity, a lush and verdant island offering safe harbor for self-esteem and self-confidence. Unfortunately, those two ships often choose to wander aimlessly adrift at sea, relying on willpower or ego to drive them, and in the absence of those motors are left hopelessly pursuing the fraught mirage of someday. As in, "Someday I will feel good enough about myself to shop that screenplay I wrote." Or, "Someday, when I have self-confidence, I will get out of this raggedy relationship." Self-esteem and self-confidence are fleeting, and both can exist without radical self-love, but it almost never bodes well for anyone involved when they do. Think of all the obnoxious people you know oozing arrogance, folks we can be certain think extremely highly of themselves. Although you may call them ... ahem ... confident (at least that may be one of the things you call them), I bet the phrase radical self-love doesn't quite fit. Pick your favorite totalitarian dictator and you will likely find someone who has done just fine in the self-confidence category. After all, you would have to think you're the bee's knees to entertain the idea of single-handedly dominating the entire planet. The forty-fifth U.S. president strikes me as a man with epic self-confidence. "The Donald" is not struggling with his sense of self (even if the rest of the world is struggling with its sense of who he is). Even if we were to surmise that Trump and others like him are acting from an exaggerated lack of self-esteem or confidence, I think we can agree not much of their attitudes or actions feel like love.
You may be asking, "Okay, well if this book won't help me with my self-esteem or self-confidence, will it at least teach me self-acceptance?" My short answer is, if I do my job correctly, no! Not because self-acceptance isn't useful but because I believe there is a port far beyond the isle of self-acceptance and I want us to go there. Think back to all the times you "accepted" something and found it completely uninspiring. When I was a kid, my mother would make my brother and me frozen pot pies for dinner. It was the meal for the days she did not feel like cooking. I enjoyed the flaky pastry crust. The chunks of mechanically pressed chicken in a Band-Aid-colored beige gravy were tolerable. But there was nothing less appetizing than the abhorrent vegetable medley of peas, green beans, and carrots portioned throughout each bite like miserable stars in an endless galaxy. Yes, I ate those hateful mixed vegetables. Hunger will make you accept things. I accepted that my options were limited: pick out a million tiny peas or get a job at the ripe age of ten and figure out how to feed myself. Why am I talking about pot pies? Because self-acceptance is the mixed-veggie pot pie of radical self-love. It will keep you alive when the options are sparse, but what if there is a life beyond frozen pot pies?
Too often, self-acceptance is used as a synonym for acquiescence. We accept the things we cannot change. We accept death because we have no say over its arbitrary and indifferent arrival at our door. We have personal histories of bland acceptance. We have accepted lackluster jobs because we were broke. We have accepted lousy partners because their lousy presence was better than the hollow aloneness of their absence. We practice self-acceptance when we have grown tired of self-hatred but can't conceive of anything beyond a paltry tolerance of ourselves. What a thin coat to wear on this weather-tossed road. Famed activist and professor Angela Davis said, "I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept." We can change the circumstances that have had us settle for self-acceptance. I assure you there is a richer, thicker, cozier blanket to carry through the world. There is a realm infinitely more mind-blowing. It's called radical self-love.
Why the Body?
Humans are a varied and divergent bunch, with all manner of beliefs, morals, values, and ideas. We have struggled to find agreement on much of anything over the centuries (just think about how long we argued about gravity and whether the world is shaped like a pizza), but here is a completely noncontroversial statement I think we have consensus around: You, my dear, have a body. And should you desire to remain on this spinning rock hurtling through space, you will need a body to do it. Everything else we think we know is up for debate. Are we spiritual beings? Depends on who you ask. Do humans have souls? Been fighting about that since Aristotle likened the souls of fetuses to those of vegetables. But bodies — yup, we got those. And given this widely agreed-upon reality, it seems to me if ever there were a place where the practice of radical love could be a transformative force, the body ought to be that location.
When we speak of the ills of the world — violence, poverty, injustice — we are not speaking conceptually; we are talking about things that happen to bodies. When we say millions around the world are impacted by the global epidemic of famine, what we are saying is that millions of humans are experiencing the physical deterioration of muscle and other tissue due to lack of nutrients in their bodies. Injustice is an opaque word until we are willing to discuss its material reality as, for example, the three years sixteen-year-old Kalief Browder spent beaten and locked in solitary confinement in Riker's Island prison without ever being charged with a single crime. His suicide and his mother's heart attack two years later are not abstractions; they are the outcomes injustice enacted on two bodies. 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.
A radical self-love world is a world that works for every body. Creating such a world is an inside-out job. How we value and honor our own bodies impacts how we value and honor the bodies of others. Our own radical self-love reconnection is the blueprint for what author Charles Eisenstein calls The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. It is through our own transformed relationship with our bodies that we become champions for other bodies on our planet. As we awaken to our indoctrinated body shame, we feel inspired to awaken others and to interrupt the systems that perpetuate body shame and oppression against all bodies. There is a whisper we keep hearing; it is saying we must build in us what we want to see built in the world. When we act from this truth on a global scale, using the lens of the body, we usher in the transformative opportunity of radical self-love, which is the opportunity for a more just, equitable, and compassionate world for us all.
Moving from body shame to radical self-love is a road of inquiry and insight. We will need to ask ourselves tough questions from a place of grace and grounding. Together we will examine what we have come to believe about ourselves, our bodies, and the world we live in. At times, the road may appear dark and ominous, but fret not, my friend! I have provided some lampposts along the way. They come in the form of Unapologetic Inquiries, questions you will ask yourself as you endeavor to comb the recesses of your body shame and dismantle its parts. Radical Reflections will highlight central themes and concepts you will want to remember as we take this journey together. This is not a math test and you cannot fail. Be patient with yourself, take your time. As my best friend Maureen Benson says, "You are not late"
Why Must It Be Radical?
"Okay, Sonya. I get it. Loving ourselves is important. But why do we have to be all radical about it?" To answer this question is to further distinguish radical self-love from its fickle cousins, self-confidence and self-esteem, or its scrappy kid sister, self-acceptance. It requires that we explore the definition of the word radical. Language is fluid and evolutionary, regularly leaving dictionary definitions feeling dated and sorely lacking in nuance. How we construct language is an enormous part of how we understand and judge bodies. The definition of radical is a powerful one as we explore its relationship to self-love. Dictionary.com defines radical as:
1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.
2. thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.
3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.
4. forming a basis or foundation.
5. existing inherently in a thing or person: radical defects of character.
Radical self-love is deeper, wider, and more expansive than anything we would call self-confidence or self-esteem. It is juicer than self-acceptance. Including the word radical offers us a self-love that is the root or origin of our relationship to ourselves. We did not start life in a negative partnership with our bodies. I have never seen a toddler lament the size of their thighs, the squishiness of their bellies. Children do not arrive here ashamed of their race, gender, age, or disabilities. Babies love their bodies! Each discovery they encounter is freaking awesome. Have you ever seen an infant realize they have feet? Talk about wonder! That is what an unobstructed relationship with our bodies looks like. You were an infant once, which means there was a time when you thought your body was freaking awesome too. Connecting to that memory may feel as distant as the furthest star. It may not be a memory you can access at all, but just knowing that there was a point in your history when you once loved your body can be a reminder that body shame is a fantastically crappy inheritance. We didn't give it to ourselves, and we are not obligated to keep it. We arrived on this planet as LOVE.
We need not do anything other than turn on a television for evidence affirming how desperately our society, our world, needs an extreme form of self-love to counter the constant barrage of shame, discrimination, and body-based oppression enacted against us daily. Television shows like The Biggest Loser encourage dangerous and unsustainable exercise and food restriction from their contestants while using their bodies as fodder for our entertainment and reinforcing the notion that the most undesirable body one can have is a fat body. Researchers have shown that American news outlets regularly exaggerate crime rates, including a tendency to inflate the rates of Black offenses while depicting Black suspects in a less favorable light than their White counterparts. People with disabilities are virtually nonexistent on television unless they are being trotted out as "inspiration porn." Their stories are often told in ways that exploit their disabilities for the emotional edification of able-bodied people, presenting them as superhuman for doing unspectacular things like reading or going to the store or, worse yet, for overcoming obstacles placed on them by the very society that fails to acknowledge or appropriately accommodate their bodies. Of course we need something radical to challenge these messages.
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 difference. The U.S. Constitution was written to sanction governmental body oppression. When the Bill of Rights was signed, relatively few Americans had voting rights. Among those excluded from suffrage were African Americans, Native Americans, women, White men with disabilities, and White males who did not own land. Voting rights for women ... nope. Blacks ... nope; they were only counted as three-fifths of a full person. Using a wheelchair? No voting for you, dear. Race, gender, and disability prejudice were written into the governing documents of the United States. Consider that the right to marry the person you love regardless of your gender was only legally sanctioned in the United States in 2015. In certain other nations (e.g., Australia), it is still illegal. Marriage equality for same-sex couples is in its historical infancy in the United States and nonexistent for most of the world. Transgender people are currently fighting across the United States to retain the legal right to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. People with disabilities have higher rates of unemployment regardless of educational attainment.
These political, economic, and social issues are about our bodies. They intersect with our race, age, gender, ability, sexual orientation, and a multitude of other ways our bodies exist. In 1989 Columbia law professor and scholar Kimberle Crenshaw gave a name to this long-understood dynamic. She called it intersectionality and defined it as:
... the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. The theory suggests that — and seeks to examine how — various biological, social, and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, age, and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels. The theory proposes that we should think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand one's identity.
Intersectionality has become a term often revered or repudiated depending on the source. Put plainly, none of us are mono-dimensional. We are not only men, fathers, people with living with lupus, Asian, or seniors. Some of us are aging Asian fathers who are living with lupus. Those varying identities impact each other in ways that are significantly different than if we were navigating them one at a time. Radical self-love demands that we see ourselves and others in the fullness of our complexities and intersections and that we work to create space for those intersections. As has been true throughout history, changing the systemic 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.
Radical self-love is interdependent. The radical self-love espoused in this book lives beyond the flimsy ethos of individualism and operates at both the individual and systemic levels. Radical self-love is about the self because the self is part of the whole. And therefore, radical self-love is the foundation of radical human love. Our relationships with our own bodies inform our relationships with others. Consider all the times you have assessed your value or lack thereof by comparing yourself to someone else. When we are saddled with body shame, we see other bodies as things to covet or judge. Body shame makes us view bodies in narrow terms like "good" or "bad," or "better" or "worse" than our own. Radical self-love invites us to love our bodies in a way that transforms how we understand and accept the bodies of others. This is not to say that we magically like everyone. It simply means we have debates and disagreements about ideas and character, not about bodies. When we can see the obvious truth inherent in body activist Hanne Blank's quote, "There is no wrong way to have a body," we learn to love bodies even when we don't like the humans inhabiting them.
Excerpted from "The Body Is Not an Apology"
Copyright © 2018 Sonya Renee Taylor.
Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Making Self-Love Radical 1
What Radical Self-Love Is and What It Ain't 1
Why the Body? 4
Why Must It Be Radical? 6
What Have We Been Apologizing For? What If We Stopped? 12
The Three Peaces 20
2 Shame, Guilt, and Apology-Then and Now 29
When Did We Learn to Hate Them? 29
Body-Shame Origin Stories 30
Media Matters 41
Buying to Be "Enough" 46
A Government for, by, and about Bodies 50
Call it What It Is: Body Terrorism 55
3 Building a Radical Self-Love Practice in an Age of Loathing 63
Mapping Our Way out of Shame and into Radical Self-Love 63
Thinking, Being, Doing 66
Four Pillars of Practice 70
4 A New Way Ordered by Love 81
A World for All Bodies Is a World for Our Bodies 81
Speaking French and Implicit Bias 82
Beating Body Terrorism from the Inside Out 87
Changing Hearts 89
Unapologetic Agreements 93
5 How to Fight with Love 99
Radical Self-Love Transforms Organizations and Communities 100
Freedom Frameworks for an Unapologetic Future 104
Fighting Oppression, Isms, and Phobias 106
Radical Resources 141
About the Author 157
About TBINAA 159