By Patty Branco, Senior Technical Assistance and Resource Specialist
“My shame, my guilt for existing, for being viewed as ugly and undesirable, for surviving, has always been rooted in the way I look. It has not only lived in my body, it has been because of my body, and everything else has rippled out from there.” —Tanya Denise Fields
Most of us have been there at some point: ashamed of and apologetic about our bodies. When white supremacy rejects our ancestral gifts, telling us that our hair texture and the rich shade of our skin are not the ideal beauty. When capitalism and ableist norms indoctrinate us to believe that our bodies are not capable or productive enough. When sexism blames us for the abuses inflicted upon our own bodies. When people “project assumed narratives” on to our bodies because of our size. When we are inundated by messages that we are not worthy of love.
But the body is not an apology, activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor reminds us. The Body Is Not an Apology movement offers radical self-love as “the balm to heal the wounds inflicted by these violent systems.” Taylor invites us to praise our bodies like the deities that they are. “The body is not to be prayed for but to be prayed to,” she says.
And why is it important for us – advocates, healers, and social change makers – to practice radical self-love? Because radical self-love is a pathway toward individual and collective transformation.
Beloved ancestor bell hooks was consistent in reminding us that we would all love better if we used “love” as a verb instead of a noun. hooks spoke of love as a transformative force. In her lectures about ending racism and sexism, she reminded audiences around the nation and the world, that all the great movements for freedom and justice have promoted a love ethic.
Contrary to what systems of oppression and marginalization want us to believe, we are interdependent beings. Our individual experiences impact one another. While radical self-love starts with us as individuals, it has the power to expand to our families and communities. In the end, it has the power to transform society as a whole. The truth is: we cannot change the world without a foundation of love. And love must show up as action in the world.
“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” (Taylor, 2021).
The following is a list of tools and frameworks to assist advocates in this radical self-love journey:
- 2nd Edition: The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor: “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.”
- Your Body Is Not An Apology Workbook by Sonya Renee Taylor: This action guide offers tools and structured frameworks that readers can use to deepen their radical self-love journey – such as Taylor’s four pillars of practice, which help readers dismantle body shame and give them access to a lifestyle rooted in love. Taylor guides readers to move beyond theory and into doing and being radical self-love change agents in the world.
- Podcast: Unlocking Us with Brené Brown and Sonya Renee Taylor on “The Body is Not an Apology:” In this episode, Sonya Renee Taylor and Brené Brown talk about body shame, radical self-love, and social justice. “This conversation was a big unlocking for me – especially when it comes to understanding the connection between how we think about our bodies and oppression,” says Brown.
- TEDx Talks: Bodies as Resistance: Claiming the Political Act of Being Oneself with Sonya Renee Taylor: The power of accepting ourselves begins by accepting our bodies. This powerful talk was given at a TEDx event featuring Sonya Renee Taylor – author, poet, spoken word artist, speaker, humanitarian and social justice activist, educator, and founder of The Body is Not An Apology movement, an international movement and organization committed to radical self-love and body empowerment as the foundational tool for social justice and global transformation.
- Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne maree brown: “How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience? How can we awaken within ourselves desires that make it impossible to settle for anything less than a fulfilling life? Author and editor adrienne maree brown finds the answer in something she calls “pleasure activism,” a politics of healing and happiness that explodes the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work. Drawing on the black feminist tradition, she challenges us to rethink the ground rules of activism.”
- It’s My Pleasure: Decolonizing Sex Positivity by Mo Asebiomo: “It’s My Pleasure challenges what it means to have sex-positive attitudes in a country with a history and current reality of white supremacy. In [their] debut book, Asebiomo traces the myths and misinformation of sex positivity back to racism, homophobia, transphobia, white settler colonialism and capitalism.”
- Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon: Alok Vaid-Menon provides an accessible primer to gender fluidity, showing how a world beyond the gender binary of man and woman creates more freedom for everyone. They equip readers with the knowledge to counter the rise of anti-trans discrimination. This book invites the world to see gender not in black and white, but in full color.
- Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’Shaun L. Harrison: “Da’Shaun Harrison – a fat, Black, disabled, and nonbinary trans writer – offers an incisive, fresh, and precise exploration of anti-fatness as anti-Blackness, foregrounding the state-sanctioned murders of fat Black men and trans and nonbinary masculine people in historical analysis. Policing, disenfranchisement, and invisibilizing of fat Black men and trans and nonbinary masculine people are pervasive, insidious ways that anti-fat anti-Blackness shows up in everyday life.”
- Hunger by Roxane Gay: “New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and bodies, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health.”
- Journal of Radical Permission by adrienne maree brown and Sonya Renee Taylor: “Based on the bestselling philosophies of radical self-love, emergent strategy, and pleasure activism, this journal gives you permission to love yourself deeply as you are. Journaling to these prompts will help you surrender to your body’s needs instead of forcing yourself into cramped disciplines. It will encourage you to become awed by the natural beauty of your divine self instead of being rampantly self-critical. It will aid you in embracing your shadows and accepting responsibility for your impact all while liberating you to just be.”
- Institute for Radical Permission: “Oppressive systems and structures of this world can distance us from our divine nature. For most of us, the permission to be our full, authentic, and divine selves was interrupted early in our lives, replaced by people-pleasing, self-denial, and scarcity.” The Institute for Radical Permission offers a wealth of collected wisdom from adrienne maree brown, Sonya Renee Taylor, and over a dozen different integration practitioners that “shows you how you, too, can begin a liberatory journey into your own divine power.”
- Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hershey: “From the founder and creator of The Nap Ministry, Rest Is Resistance is a battle cry, a guidebook, a map for a movement, and a field guide for the weary and hopeful. This book is rooted in spiritual energy and centered in Black liberation, womanism, somatics, and Afrofuturism. With captivating storytelling and practical advice, all delivered in Hersey’s lyrical voice and informed by her deep experience in theology, activism, and performance art, Rest Is Resistance is a call to action and manifesto for those who are sleep deprived, searching for justice, and longing to be liberated from the oppressive grip of Grind Culture.”
As advocates and change makers, it is our work to confront racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and other oppressive systems. Radical self-love, then, must be part of our toolboxes. This liberatory journey has the power to dismantle internal feelings of shame and self-loathing. But it also has the power to dismantle entire systems of injustice. We practice radical self-love in service of ourselves, the survivors we support in our work, and the world we seek to create.