Hello!!Happy Sunday! I finished this book yesterday in the bath, and honestly it made me feel so jubilant afterwards I knew a blog post was waiting. This book is like a little explanation manual of why you feeling shit about yourself isn’t always your fault, how you hating yourself is actually the product of years of subliminal indoctrination into shame and how this shame builds divisions and inequalities that fuel ‘Body Terrorism’. Body Terrorism being, according to Sonya Renee Taylor, the ubiquitous bombardment of stereotypes, hierarchies and judgements we subject our own and other bodies to.These ingrained negative messages about ourselves and others ultimately being the energy powering every kind of ‘body oppression’, every kind of discrimination there is from racism, misogyny, fatphobia, abelism, ageism, homophobia and more.
I found this book so relaxed, yet so rich in potential ways of re-organising the brain away from inertia and hatred, that I found myself repeatedly rereading the same passages and dog-earing many of the pages for future reference. Sonya Renee Taylor is an activist and founder of the ‘Body is Not An Apology’ website and movement- so her book isn’t set out in a traditional format, with chapters for readers to get through without enquiry as to how the material they’re reading is making them feel or what they’re learning. She sort of makes it like a school text-book for emotional growth (and political empowerment), interspersing text with small bubbles of her ‘Radical Reflections’ and ‘Unapologetic Enquiries’ for the reader to engage not only with Taylor’s words, but with the brain of themselves that is processing and reformulating the book back in terms of knowledge their own brain can retain. Though this book covers some timeless and universal struggles that I’m not sure can ever be easily addressed or answered, Taylor makes the book manageable to read, without being condescending or reductionist in how she proposes her tactics for the eradication of body oppression and terrorism everywhere: radical self love.
The Body Is Not An Apology is split into sections. First examining the roots of our self-hatred and internalised stigmas against ourselves and others, excavating how those who tormented us ultimately aren’t the originators, but pollinators of hate and judgement they’d learnt from external forces. Second, it explains how we are subjected to ideas perpetuating body terrorism- via the media, culture, and intimate pollinators of shame- and how these ideas are made concrete, made real and painful by systemic and structural enforcement by governments, and more cruelly and baffling, ourselves. This book does not endorse a binary organisation of thinking at all, Taylor is not in favour of any ‘you’ VS ‘them’/ ‘He’ VS ‘She/ ‘Black VS ‘white’- she offers radical honesty into admitting when we were victims, and learning to write new stories for ourselves to live by. But, equally, Taylor gives us a mirror, questions to hold up to ourselves so we can realise how we are never purely victims or enforcers of judgement, but always simultaneously being harmed, and (unintentionally, mostly) causing harm to others.
Her argument is simple: if you treat yourself with suspicion and animosity, if your’e forever giving yourself a hard time for not being ‘perfect’, if you don’t afford yourself empathy and compassion then how can you begin to extend that to others? If you cant hold yourself accountable for who you really are, not who you are told to be, how can you honestly hold other bodies accountable without reverting to bias and cruel stereotype? Taylor cites a perpetual reluctance to accept difference and ‘not understanding’ as ways our inherent capacities for self-love are intercepted. If you constantly hold up a default standard of body which deserves more love, respect, and grace than any other type, becoming hostile and confused whenever bodies not conforming to your rules choose to be something the rules don’t allow, then how will the mysteries of life ever be anything other than fear? If you can’t come to terms with differences that have no ‘why’, with not understanding the various reasons people become who they are, then how can you truly try to love everyone without making your love hinge upon some category that must be fulfilled? Basically, by Taylor grounding oppression and injustice in the body, the physical homes which keep us ticking, she is making the political issues that seem beyond our grasp a literal part of our DNA- she brings the fight truly home.
Her book is about honesty, forgiveness, curiosity into the why things are structured the way they are; and how by becoming more aware of who we are, our true potential for love is the long-term revolution that will truly sustain the world for future days. By examining the intersections of our identities, we can become more aware of how our worst fears about ourselves are not isolated or arbitrary, but indoctrinated into so many other people there’s no need to feel alone or afraid. Equally, by being honest with how who we are impacts our thinking, we can begin to understand why we have absorbed negative messages about others whose ‘faults’ are different from our own. By seeing ourselves more clearly, we can more effectively see how we treat others-regardless of whether we actually ‘understand’/know them- you don’t have to explain yourself or understand yourself to deserve love.
Sometimes it may seem that Taylor is being too idealistic, too lovey-dovey for her idea to actually be radical, but that’s why I think she is genius. Her revolution doesn’t propose us all to be sitting in flowery fields, congratulating each other on how beautiful our bodies our and how all corruption is finally gone. Her revolution is material, embodied and so close you can literally touch it: it is within each push of the lung as it heaves out more breath. Her revolution reaches to the poorest of neighbourhoods,to the richest of banks, because her argument is applicable to all: if you have a body, love it- and that love will spread like the best ever virus you could hope to catch. If you constantly try to organise humanity into tribes to be trusted VS targeted, you could have the best intentions in the world and still result in cruelty when you finally get the power that was held away, and use it to do to others what was done to you. Without loving yourself, and by extension all bodies, nobody is there to interrupt the infinite figure of 8 the devil has somehow spun hatred into the seconds with.
I know that I’m definitely going to be revisiting this book a lot. Taylor has included many tips and tricks for helping unclutter the mind from the shit-show named body hierarchies. If you’ve been feeling not enough/ frustrated with yourself and where the world has placed you/ hopeless at what you can do to make it better- just generally confused/ ugly/ worthless but forever glimmering with that shadowy dust of hope, then this book is for you!!!!! Sonya Renee Taylor has a big heart that we can all learn from, and I really hope you give this book a try! It is not tedious, too complicated or far-fetched. It is beautiful and necessary. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post, and to conclude, I’ve decided to quote someone who I know would agree with Sonya and L.O.V.E the message of this book…. RU-PAUL!!!! ‘IF YOU CAN’T LOVE YOURSELF, HOW IN THE HELLLLLL YOU GONNA BE ABLE TO LOVE ANYONE ELSE??!?!?!?!’
“We are not simply good or bad; vessels of pure, divine light or mongers of hate; interrupters of body terrorism everywhere or singlehandedly upholding oppression of bodies across the planet. If ‘good’ and ‘bad’ were the choices on a quiz about who we are, the answer would be ‘all of the above’. Humans (i.e., you and I) are doing and being all those things all the time… Binary thinking limits our possibility, squelches compassion, and reinforced narrow ideas of how we get to ‘be’ in the world. That marginalisation is a function of internalised body terrorism. If you recall, the practise of ‘I am not my thoughts’ prompted us to examine our thoughts from a place of curiosity and diminished judgement. The same is true for our behaviours. We can change our behaviours, but only when we see them as mutable- of us but not us. Honour that you will be many things throughout the course of your life. Sometimes you will be a phenomenal gift; sometimes you will get on someone’s damn nerves. There is gorgeous potential and heinous instinct in all of us. Singularity does not define us. Our instincts influence and shape us but do not define us. When we find ourselves in the land of either/or thinking- characterised by words like never, always, only, every time, mostly, rarely– it is a great sign that we may be off our path. Binary thinking is the antithesis of radical self-love…”