Self-help books might be the oldest genre in existence. Didn’t Cleopatra chisel a few hieroglyphics on self-confidence and conquering nations? Both Marjie and I have read many how-to-improve-yourself books over the years—some that made an impact and others that slid right out of my consciousness the second I finished them. But this fall feels different. If I’m going to read a self-help book, it’s because I can make this messed up, crazy world a better place if I do.
Overview: The Body is not an Apology
I love the cover of The Body is not an Apology! An almost nude Sonya Renee Taylor lounges in a sea of flowers in a goddess-like pose. She gets down to it right away, “A radical self-love world is a world that works for every body,” she writes. “How we value and honor our own bodies impacts how we value and honor the bodies of others.” You can’t love your neighbor if you don’t love yourself. She’s not talking about acceptance, which is merely acquiescence to things we cannot change. Instead, she’s talking about LOVE. She wants us to reject the toxic body shame that the media, government, capitalism and society has foisted on us and instead radically love our bodies and treat them like they are our partner in a life-long journey (because that’s exactly what they are). The book is full of reflections and practices to help us recognize where we are and how we can change.
Three Personal Takeaways
Reframe Your Framework
Your body isn’t your enemy! That profound statement really stopped me. It’s easy for me as I age to grumble about my body’s failings and imperfections as I compare myself to how I used to look or what I could accomplish, but Taylor wants us to love our bodies right now, as they are. She points out that “Our unapologetic embrace of our bodies gives others permission to unapologetically embrace theirs.” That includes our daughters, mothers and best friends as well strangers. Taylor celebrates our bodies ability to move and laugh, and she highly recommends self-care and adornment because our bodies deserve it.
Dump the Junk
The body-negative messages we’ve absorbed do more than just harm our mental and physical health. There’s a world of industries that profits when we judge and distain our bodies and those of others. To name a few: celebrity media, diet industry, cosmetic surgery, beauty industry, and even the prison industrial complex, which is founded on a belief that Black bodies are inherently dangerous. As Taylor says, “Body shame flourishes in our world because profit and power depend on it.” We can dump this legacy of junk thinking by considering our media choices, how we spend our money, who we vote for, how we talk about our bodies and how we think about other bodies. It’s a big change in attitude, but it’s also a change in behavior that we can accomplish by directing our dollars and attention toward a world that values all bodies.
Meditate on a Mantra
Taylor strongly advocates for meditating with a mantra (just five minutes a day!) that challenges the body shame voices in our heads. It’s OK if you don’t believe it at first or if you feel idiotic. Her point is that repetition of a positive message is necessary to drive out all the negative thoughts we’ve built up and stored over a lifetime. Three mantras I really like:
- I love my body
- My body is an ally.
- I have the body I need to live my best life
It’s a small commitment with big returns. If you want more ideas, take a look at Marjie’s reflection on Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Everyday to see how mindful living can help us navigate these chaotic times.
How to Save the World
“Liberation is the opportunity for every human, no matter their body… to live in radical self-love.” That’s a profound manifesto for our world, but it can start small. Think about how internalized shame spills over into how we treat family members, how we manage employees, how we respond to those who look different from us, and even our expectations for our government and people in power. It starts with changing you (not easy!), but radical self-love will also change how you act as a leader, neighbor and parent.
When we started Style Challengers, Marjie and I knew that we weren’t interested in talking about diets, aging interventions or the need to buy a lot of stuff. We didn’t start with a notion of self-love, but it does seem like a fitting lens for us to view what topics we choose and why. We want to uplift other women, and especially women who are not always seen. It’s a big goal, but as Taylor makes clear, it’s only by starting at that place of love that the world will change.