Reading Time: 5 minutes
When I’m excited about a book, I want to share it. I’ve been excited about Sonja Renee Taylor’s book, “The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love” for a long time (seriously…it’s in its second edition), and now I’m (finally) sharing it.
I’m warning you now: learning the origin of the title of the book and the movement of the same name (revealed in the prologue, and also in the story of how the book, and the movement, came to be on Taylor’s website) will break your heart – and it gets right to the heart of what can happen when we feel that our bodies are less than, so we are less than.
This second edition has a forward by Seattle writer Ijeoma Oluo, author of the excellent book, “So You Want to Talk about Race” and a cover blurb by Brene Brown, which, you know, says something. (Taylor was a guest on Brown’s “Unlocking Us” podcast in January 2021. Totally worth a listen, as is her appearance on the “Ten Percent Happier” podcast in August 2021.)
Taylor is an activist and visionary, and she doesn’t pull any punches about how feeling shame and guilt about our bodies – and apologizing for them – harms both ourselves and others. However, her voice (both in writing and in the audio version of the book, which she narrates) is that of a compassionate friend who tells it like it is because she wants you to treat yourself, and the world, better.
What if “radical self-love” feels too radical?
Taylor talks about the power of radical self-love, as you can gather from the book’s subtitle. I realize that “radical self-love” may sound TOO radical if you find it challenging to even get to a place of body acceptance or body neutrality.
But radical self-love isn’t the same thing as “body positivity,” which had wonderful origins but then became badly co-opted by white, thin-privileged Instagram influencers. Taylor has a whole chapter on what radical self-love is, and why it’s so radical, but at its core, it’s our inherent natural state, she says, pointing out that “we did not start life in a negative partnership with our bodies.”
Various cultural forces have distanced us from our inherent self-love, she says, and to get back to that state we need to peel off years (or decades) worth of toxic messages like the layers of an onion. She discusses the origins of body shame, and how our earliest memories of body shame affect our lives today.
Making space for ALL bodies
One way in which the body positivity movement has lost the plot is that in its current incarnation it really promotes feeling positive only about SOME bodies. Taylor is clear in her writing that she’s writing about ALL bodies regardless of race, age, gender, size, sexual orientation, or ability.
She’s also clear that radical self-love is both a personal journey and a global social justice movement, as you can see in the TEDx talk below (in which she also shares her Poetry Slam skills).
“Our relationships with our own bodies inform our relationships with others.”
“How we value and honor our own bodies impacts how we value and honor the bodies of others.”
I see this interconnection between how we feel about our own bodies, and how we feel about others, all the time. It’s not uncommon for a client to tell me that they’re feeling better about their own body…and that one thing that helps is that they’re not “that” fat. When I was still fully subscribed to diet culture, I had those same thoughts! When we continue to judge some bodies as less worthy or acceptable than others, then WE are not free of body shame.
Taylor says we humans are wired to label bodies we don’t understand as “wrong,” and to wrest ourselves from the body judgement and shame that we direct at both ourselves and others, we need to make peace with not understanding, make peace with difference, and make peace with our own bodies.
Learning, then doing
Taylor’s book is bound to get you fired up and a little pissed off at the forces outside ourselves that contribute to our very personal experiences of body shame. But she does not leave you hanging and wondering, “Well, NOW what?” Throughout the book, she offers “Radical Reflections,” such as:
“Although our actions are important, we learn more about ourselves when we examine our motives. Radical Self-Love inquiry is less about judging ourselves for ‘what’ we do and far more about compassionately asking ourselves ‘why?’”
And “Unapologetic Inquiries,” such as:
“Can you recall an occasion when you compared yourself to someone? How did the comparison impact your self-esteem and self-confidence? How did it impact your ideas about the other person?”
She walks you through how to build a radical self-love practice even when the world around you wants you to hate your body, and then how to take that radical self-love into the world to be an agent of change in your family and community. This includes how to have difficult conversations with people you know who are directing shame at your body, their body, or other people’s bodies.
If you want even more actionable guidance, I highly recommend the companion workbook, “Your Body Is Not An Apology Workbook: Tools for Living Radical Self-Love.” There is goooood stuff there!
Who is this book for?
I would say this book is for everybody (and I do think that it is), but that’s probably not the answer you’re looking for. I would say this book is for you if you struggle with body shame, you find that you tend to be judgmental towards other people’s bodies, and you would like the world to be a more equitable place (i.e., you are social justice minded), then this book is totally for you. It goes even deeper into cultural and societal forms of body oppression than “More Than A Body,” which I previously reviewed.
If you are uncomfortable reading or thinking about sexism, racism or respect for people at all points of the gender and sexual orientation spectrums, then this book is not for you, unless you feel like you can compassionately ask yourself, “Why do these topics make me uncomfortable?” and open yourself to exploring a more diverse set of perspectives. I hope that you can.
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Carrie Dennett is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health.