Sonya Renee Taylor is an Oakland-based poet and radical self-love evangelist. In 2014, she founded The Body is Not An Apology, a website and educational outlet that “fosters global, radical, unapologetic self love…toward a more just, equitable and compassionate world.” Through her writing, poetry and speaking, she’s also a powerful voice for women of color in the body positivity movement, an arena that can be overwhelmingly White.
For the last two years, Taylor has been translating that work into a book, "The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-love," released yesterday (February 13). It is a cross between self-help and political treatise. Taylor is clear that individual transformation is not the goal of her work. “I have very little concern for your individual self-esteem and self-confidence,” she told Colorlines. “By itself, it will not change the world. How do each and every one of us play a role in creating a just and equitable compassionate world for ourselves? Then [we] translate that to interrupting the systems that keep that from being our world.”
Colorlines spoke to Taylor, and we’ve distilled that conversation, alongside her ideas from the book, into these tools to guide your own self-love journey.
1. “Your body is what your body is.”
Taylor puts it plainly in her book: “Hating your body is like finding a person you despise and then choosing to spend the rest of your life with them while loathing every moment of the partnership.”
Acceptance is the starting point for much of the work she encourages her readers to do. “I think that so much of the popular culture ethos is the idea that your body should be some other kind of body,” Taylor explains. Her critique of the society that shapes which bodies are accepted is deep, and she pushes her readers to really separate their beliefs from the judgements of society. “The structure of hierarchy is that we value some bodies more than other bodies. As individuals, we internalize that by trying to make our bodies fit better in that hierarchy. I have the body I have. The issue is not with my body, the issue is external.”
2. We can’t love our bodies until we stop shaming and judging others’ bodies.
“I think that what we realize often times is that our judgement [of others] is often coming from our own internal sense of shame,” says Taylor. “If I am not enough, then how do I get to be enough? By making myself think, at least I’m not in that person’s body."
Taylor argues that this game of comparison keeps the hierarchy alive—and leaves the unjust systems that support it intact. "When we disrobe that idea, then really what we get to believe is this: ‘What has me believe this about other people’s bodies and my own?’”
3. In order to move forward, we must look back at our earliest body shame experiences.
Those occurences “formulate a sense of who we are and the way that we move through the world,” explains Taylor. “These are messages that we got in parts of our lives when we weren’t necessarily rational thinkers. Even when those notions are challenged intellectually, they are still deeply embedded in us.”
Taylor encourages everyone to really examine those experiences to shift their impact on us. “What was the message I got and what has that had me believe about myself and the world? We can’t get where we are going without recognizing how we got there.”
4. We have to understand the connections between racism and body shame to get to a place of radical self-love.
“If we’re not thinking about race when we think about the body, we’re missing an entire area,” says Taylor. “As a fat, dark-skinned, Black woman there are messages about who I am that I’ve received since I was a small child, [and they] are a function of White supremacy. Radical self-love is the unobstructed access to living our highest purpose. What are the ways that bodies that show up as racialized are obstructed in that? What are our individual roles in removing that obstruction?”
5. It might be time to break up with the Body-Shame Profit Complex (BSPC).
In the book, Taylor explains: “Our relationship with our money often mirrors our relationship with our bodies.” The BSPC, she says, is illustrated by the 230 billion dollar global beauty industry. “There is a tremendous amount of economic infrastructure riding on our desire to change our bodies,” she says. “This is part of a larger system whose intention is that we continue to feel this way because it is very profitable.”
Taylor sees a major connection between body shame, classism and the myth of meritocracy, saying, “If you’re poor—it’s because you’re failing. It’s the same thing we tell people who are fat. If you aren’t thin—you’re failing. If you’re Black—you’re failing. If you have a disability—you’re failing.” Instead, Taylor’s book tells her readers to move to “best-interest buying,” which, she writes, "furthers our radical self-love journey by connecting how we spend our resources with what we truly want for our lives, not simply in the short term to avoid feelings of not being ‘enough.’" Best-interest buying means examining our purchases to make sure they aren’t "closely connected to our beliefs that we are somehow deficient or unworthy."