Making Peace With Your Body Is a Mighty Act of Revolution
The three tenets of radical self-love
This story is part of The New Self-Help: 21 Books for a Better You in the 21st Century.
Radical self-love — a deliberate unlearning of the internalized shame and discomfort we accumulate with respect to our physical bodies — is a non-negotiable step in the fight for a more equitable society.
I came to that realization by accident. A few years ago, when my friend Natasha told me she was worried she might be pregnant and didn’t want to be, I asked her why she had chosen not to use a condom with this casual sexual partner with whom she had no interest in procreating. Neither Natasha nor I knew that my honest question and her honest answer would be the catalyst for a movement. Natasha told me her truth: “My disability makes sex hard already, with positioning and stuff. I just didn’t feel like it was okay to make a big deal about using condoms.”
A reel of memories scrolled through my mind of all the ways I told the world I was sorry for having my big, Brown, queer, wrong, bad body. It was from that well of shared vulnerability that I told her: “Natasha, your body is not an apology. It is not something you give to someone to say, ‘Sorry for my disability.’” My friend wept. Suddenly, everything clicked.
On some cellular level, we know our bodies are not something we should apologize for. When we decide that bodies are wrong because we don’t understand them, we are trying to avoid the discomfort of divesting from an entire body-shame system. But when we liberate ourselves from the expectation that we must have all things figured out, we enter a sanctuary of empathy.
Since that fateful moment with Natasha, I’ve identified three key tenets to help pry us out of the mire of body judgment and shame. I call them the Three Peaces:
Peace with not understanding
Understanding is not a prerequisite for honor, love, or respect. I know very little about the stars, but I honor their beauty. I know virtually nothing about black holes, but I respect their incomprehensible power. I do not understand the shelf life of Twinkies, but I love them and pray there will be an endless supply in the event of an apocalypse!
Being uncertain, lacking information, or simply not knowing something ought not be an indictment against our intelligence or value. Not knowing is an opportunity for exploration without judgment and demands. It leaves room for the possibility that we might conduct all manner of investigation, and after said research is completed we may still not “get it.” Whatever “it” may be.
We can accept humans and their bodies without understanding “why” they love, think, move, or look the way they do. Contrary to common opinion, freeing ourselves from the need to understand everything can bring about a tremendous amount of peace.
Peace with difference
We must make peace with difference. This is a simple perspective when applied to nature, but oh, how we struggle when transferring the concept onto human forms. The late poet and activist Audre Lorde said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Think of all the times we have heard some well-meaning person attempting to usher in social harmony by declaring, “But aren’t we all the same?”
Here’s the short answer to that: No. We are not all the same, no more than every tree is the same or every houseplant or dog. Humans are a complicated and varied bunch, and those variations impact our lived experiences. The idea that we are all the same is often a mask. It is what we tell ourselves when we haven’t mastered the first Peace.
Equally damaging is our insistence that all bodies should be healthy. Health is not a state we owe the world. We are not less valuable, worthy, or loveable because we are not healthy. Lastly, there is no standard of health that is achievable for all bodies. Our belief that there should be anchors the systemic oppression of ableism and reinforces the notion that people with illnesses and disabilities have defective bodies rather than different bodies.
Peace with your body
Lastly, you must make peace with your body. I have been talking all kumbaya and collective in the first two Peaces, but this one is all on you, love. Your body is the body it is. Your belief that your body should be some other body other than the body it is, is likely a reflection of your struggles with the first two Peaces. As I said at the beginning of the book, you did not come to the planet hating your body.
What if you accepted the fact that much of how you view your body and your judgments of it are learned things, messages you have deeply internalized that have created an adversarial relationship? 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. I know that lots of humans stay in loveless commitments. Not only am I proposing that you should not stay in a loveless partnership; I am also proposing that your partner has been set up. If your body were an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, it would be getting framed for crimes it did not commit. Get out of that damn television show and into living in peace and harmony with the body you have today. Your body need not be a prison sentence.
I am not simply proposing that you make peace with your body cause your body shame is making you miserable. I am proposing you do it because it’s making us miserable too. Your children are sad that they have no photos with you. Your teenager is wondering if they, too, will be obligated to hate their body because they see you hating yours. The bodies you share space with are afraid you are judging them with the same venom they have watched you use to judge yourself. Remember that body shame is as contagious as radical self-love. Making peace with your body is your mighty act of revolution. It is your contribution to a changed planet where we might all live unapologetically in the bodies we have.
This edited excerpt from The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor (Berrett-Koehler 2018) appears by permission of the author.