In which I am not kidding
Many of us have just wrapped the first workday of the new Gregorian calendar year, post-holiday. Congratulations. Whatever you did, you did it, and I’m proud of you.
I’m now going to order you to leave off even thinking about work and go read Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body is Not an Apology. I read it between 31 December and 1 January, and I’m not the fastest reader.
Taylor, a renowned activist and workshop leader, first published the book in early 2018; it’s only taken on new and more urgent dimensions of significance in the wake of a pandemic that has isolated us with ourselves and from one another. The tract’s guiding principle is what she calls radical self-love: a process of self-liberation—because the first and crucial freeing occurs within the self—from the body shame we encounter in intimate settings and the body terrorism we’re subjected to (some much more blatantly than others) in society.
The important distinction she makes is that this is not self-confidence or self-esteem. It is self-love. Love is radical, and it radicalizes from the inside out. Through the act of extending the compassion, attention, and priority to ourselves that we hope others will extend to us (and that we already seek in structures like religion), she argues, we can create a world in which racism, misogyny, and other social ills have no place, a world in which all human beings have access to the highest version of themselves. Radical self-love begins with the self, then continues, and really comes to fruition, with the community. Which, naturally, makes it anti-capitalist as well.
Sound like a lot? It’s really not. I’d had the title in the back of my mind for probably a year or so, and when I finally arrived at it, its message was simpler and more revolutionary than I could have anticipated. Everybody from Kimberlé Crenshaw (coiner of the term intersectionality) to Alicia Garza (co-founder of the Black Lives Matter organization alongside Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi) has endorsed it, which is not necessarily the reason you should read it, but certainly doesn’t hurt. Taylor herself, a queer fat Black woman, has a voice you instantly trust. I believed from the start that she spoke from a lifetime of experience, and by the end I saw that she had been proven right: radical self-love consists not of embarking on some journey but on tapping into what is already inside you. You, personally. Everything that makes you who you are.
Please read this book. Not in any new-year-new-you sense (God, no) but maybe in a new-year-new-way-of-looking-at-you sense. Above all in an awareness sense. We can’t make provisions to guard against the onslaught of media or uproot the internalized self-hatred meant to keep us subservient if we can’t recognize those attacks for what they are as they happen. Nor can we recognize the dangers of transphobia- and homophobia-related violence (including measures like anti-trans legislation) without knowing their causes.
As has been said in many iterations, none of us is free until the most marginalized and oppressed people among us are free. Taylor’s book addresses this matter on an individual and a collective level. It’s more than worth the little time you will spend.
Happy 2022, all. If Britney got free, so can we. ⭐️
Image: first edition from Barrett-Koehler, February 2018