I recently read The Body Is Not An Apology, by Sonya Renee Taylor*. She starts her book by reminding us of something that everyone has in common––we all have a body. Every human has a body. It’s what makes life on this planet possible. Without it, we are not here.
Based on this body, on how this body looks, we decide who we are. We are made up of multiple intersections of identity: age, skin color, ability, health, gender, class, religion. Almost every oppressive structure in our culture (racism, agism, sexism, able-ism) is based on these appearances. A select few set the tone for what is “best”, and then everyone is reminded over and over that they are deficient because they have the “wrong” body. These oppressive systems continue because we participate in them. We spend our entire lives comparing ourselves to others, apologizing both for having the wrong the body and for the discomfort that it causes others. And we judge others just like we judge ourselves. This internalized oppression drives capitalism. It determines where we can live. For some of us, having the wrong body will mean the difference between safety and danger, between life and death.
A body is not something that we can change. It is the original seed of our being. Just like an acorn which becomes an oak tree, our body is pre-determined. Who we are is our Nature. Babies and toddlers do not have body shame. It is something we learn. We can unlearn it. Taylor explains that self-love is not a destination, something to achieve, it is a return to our inherent sense of self.
Taylor’s book describes tools for transformation. They are applicable to most journeys of reinvention. First we must sort through our basement and decide what to get rid of, like getting ready for a body-image yard sale. Once we have identified and reduced oppressive thoughts, we need to be mindful about what we put back into that space. We need to open up and accept differences, see the human being in the body, and catch ourselves when we are making distinctions like Us And Them. We need to be aware of how we judge others, because that is also how we judge ourselves. We will need to practice this new way of being. We will need to accept that we will make mistakes while we are practicing.
We want to be able to celebrate everyone who is a human, including ourselves.
*(Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2018)