We had one main project for the holiday weekend, but we were able to wrap it up so quickly yesterday that I’ve had some extra-luxurious reading time on my Saturday and Sunday. Which means that after a long dry spell, I’ve finished yet another book—this one, the latest choice from my fat activist/HAES/body love reading list.
Sonya Renee Taylor and her radical self-love/liberationist platform, The Body is Not an Apology, has been on my radar for some years now. I think it was my friend Alice who first brought Sonya into my awareness. Even if I’m misremembering this detail, I am going to stand by this poetic retelling for the rest of my days. There is something so just and sacred and fitting in a poet of Alice’s caliber bringing me to learn about a poet of Sonya’s caliber.
So as soon as Sonya’s book was released last year, I bought myself a copy. And then I let it sit on my bookshelves with all the other body love/goddess power books I’ve been ignoring in my quest to be super smart and fulfill all these reading challenges.
My decision to abandon reading challenge perfection in 2019 to make more room for actively self-nurturing titles put Sonya’s book back on the priority list, and then a guest teacher call with Sonya as part of the Mastery curriculum put this at the very top of that list.
The subtitle of this book, The Power of Radical Self-Love, echoes the mission statement embedded in the subtitle of Sonya’s website: Radical Self-Love for Everybody and Every Body. Sonya is explicit about the difference between radical self-love and the more squishy movements around “self-acceptance” or “body positivity” that have been far too easily co-opted back into society’s beauty-industrial complex. Instead, Sonya postulates radical self-love as the internal, essential, foundational work that can lead to wider liberation for us all.
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. . . . Racism, sexism, ableism, homo- and transphobia, ageism, fat phobia 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.
The book strikes a rich balance between personal insights and advice sourced from Sonya’s own lived experience and socio-media critiques/citations regarding the institutional narratives that have shaped so much of the internalized self-hatred and implicit biases we carry with us. She also introduces a couple of conceptual framings that I find to be so powerful in helping articulate what I see and experience in the world around me.(1)
The coinage of the phrase “body terrorism” is breath-taking in the simple, hard truth it unveils about the effect of society’s rules around which bodies are good or bad, right or wrong, normal or deviant. I also admire Sonya’s phraseology of the “Body Shame Profit Complex” as a more elegant way of naming what I usually call our “beauty-industrial complex.”(2) I’m probably going to keep limping along with my own phrasing for this concept, in order to not be totally derivative and plagiarizing of Sonya’s work. Still, I’m humble enough to call it here: her framing of this concept is absolutely cooler and sharper than mine.
Don’t get me wrong, though. This isn’t a book that just talks at us. We are invited to enter into our own self-reflective dialogue on the questions and social observations that Sonya offers us. Scattered through the book are 31 different “Unapologetic Inquiries” that invite us to reflect on various aspects of body shame, societal prejudice, consumerism, and the potential of radical self-love.
I’ll admit that these reflective invitations happened so often in this brief book that I ended up flagging them all with post-its in hopes of journalling over the next week or so.(3) My own choice was to drink in all of Sonya’s words in one weekend draught, and then to revisit them at a slower pace while I did the journalling and reflections.
And resist them I will. In part specifically from these reflective prompts, and in part because of another Sonya-inspired project I’m digging into.
But that’s tomorrow’s post.
(1) And, alas, in the voices I carry in my own head.
(2) Earlier in this very post, even.
(3) You can see some of those post-its sticking out in the photo above.
Image credit: Photo taken by the author, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.