Mini Review: The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor 🎧

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love is written and read by Sonya Renee Taylor. Sharing her story of the first time she said, “The body is not an apology,” Taylor introduces readers to how she became a body activist and workshop leader. Basically, her ideas have become a whole company, not just a book. One thing to note is that Taylor’s ideas are not limited to fatphobia, but include race, ability, sex, gender expression, and size. Essentially, the entire body! Which I appreciated and hadn’t really thought about before. While I’ve heard of intersectionality multiple times, I hadn’t thought about it in terms of the body as a whole thing, but more in regards to identity labels, e.g. I am a woman, I am white, I have a disability, etc.

I have a few problems with Taylor’s book, despite it’s positive message about bodies. Because she leans more towards self-help than academic, I’m still not sure what “radical self-love” is. Taylor writes, “Radical self-love demands that we see ourselves and others in the fullness of our complexities and intersections and that we work to create space for those intersections.” To be honest, I’m not sure what that means. What is the “fullness” of a complexity? You could argue that I’m nitpicking, but phrasing like that upsets my apple cart, and Taylor uses a lot of such examples. As a result, I’d zone out while listening.

In true self-help fashion, there are too many lengthy metaphors to get across a point. One that stood out as successful and illuminates the author’s point was about a person waiting for a train. The train never comes. Or they miss the train and refused to get on a different train. Or they remember a train that had been there in the past and are hoping it will come back again. In other words, Taylor uses the metaphor of the train to explain that we have to live now, because life is happening now. Our skinnier, less wrinkly, healthier body from high school? Buying a dress too small to motivate (i.e. shame) yourself to lose weight to fit into it? All these are intangible ideas that exclude today. However, Taylor jumps around, so I felt like the book wasn’t organized. I’d lose the thread when too many small metaphors cropped up.

Most powerful for me were the passages about physical movement and not hating our bodies. Taylor argues babies love everything about their bodies without hesitation (WOW, that hit me in an existential way) and how school recess used to be fun when we could swing and climb and play because we liked to. Consider the way I don’t want to move now because every tiny bit of motion is grounded in shame (don’t be fat, fatty).

What activities do I like? Swimming! But then I did aqua-cizing for “Health” instead of pretending I’m a mermaid like I really wanted to do. I used to like walking, but everyone went haywire with fitbits and “getting in their steps,” so every step feels like measurable shame. Even when there was construction at my library and we had to walk downstairs to use the fax machine, everyone talked about how good for their steps it would be. The message about enjoying my body the way a baby enjoys hers stuck with me as a powerful image and message.

The voice narration is good quality and sounds like a long workshop (passionate, sarcastic, straight-forward). Taylor is able to express her sentences how she would say them in front of a crowd, and it shows. Despite changing attitudes, the volume never gets painfully loud nor uselessly quiet, so I appreciated that.

Overall, this book is powerful to listen to, but it might be better on page, where readers can stop, focus on an idea, chew on it a bit, then read more.

26 comments

  1. Milly has a fit bit, and her sister and our oldest granddaughter. It even measures how they sleep! And she’s skinny as a rake, the last thing she needs is motivation to walk more, she walks everywhere anyway.
    Bloody fads! Yes lets just enjoy moving and being (I know, I know .. I’ve spent years, decades counting, timing my swim laps). But no fads, especially fads with a book, and a website and a programme and a damn company. Somewhere back there Taylor had a good idea, I’m sure, but if she’s set on monetising it then I don’t want to know.

    Like

    • I’m not against counting if you want to “beat” your own score, that sort of thing. What if you have a goal to swim X laps, and then double that within a year, something like that. The issues is when you count laps because it will burn of X calories, which you need to do to lose weight. It can cripple the enjoyment of moving your body in the water and feeling good about challenging yourself, if that’s what you want to do.

      I agree, Taylor must have had a good idea and wanted to share it with everyone, but perhaps her speeches are clearer than her book. There IS something there, for sure.

      Like

  2. You have articulated so clearly two reasons I really struggle with self-help books: Too many metaphors and nothing is clearly stated as it’s all conjecture based on experience instead of science. I also find that self-help books can beat a topic to death. Yes, I understood what you meant the first time. Please move on.

    That said, self-help books have a lot going for them. It sounds like Sonya Renee Taylor gave you a lot to think about. It might not be the meaty treatise on image you were looking for, but that’s all we can ask for with self-help books. Did they challenge you to view yourself and/or a concern in your life in a new and different way? Then I think they are worthwhile.

    I’ll keep this in my back pocket, but I probably won’t be reaching for to too soon. I tend not to reach for self-help books unless I’m seeking something in particular.

    Like

  3. I can definitely see why this book would work better on the page than in audio-I find non-fiction in general I have to pay more attention to, rather than ‘experience’.

    I also love your ‘upsets my apple cart’ saying, that made me laugh!

    Like

  4. I think the thing that helped me to have the mindset shift that you describe about exercise was a poster by the “This Girl Can” movement that was set up a few years ago to help women of all ages and shapes to access physical fitness. Honestly, a lot of their campaigns have been pretty patronising, but I saw one poster of a fat middle-aged woman in a swimming costume, walking towards the pool and adjusting her suit, and the slogan was “I swim because I love my body, not because I hate it”. I think that was genuinely revelatory for me. I’m not there yet with physical exercise (all I’ve been doing in lockdown is walking and the occasional Pilates when my back hurts), but I find it so much less intimidating now.

    Like

    • I love that poster! I wish I had a copy that I could hang up at my house. I’ve read that a number of women who are now fat activists had to get there by looking at so many pictures of fat women and getting used to them. We’ve vilified the fat body so much that we’re uncomfortable LOOKING at them. That’s just wild.

      Like

  5. Great review! I’ve seen this one around but somehow thought it was more sciencey or memoir-like than self-help; unfortunately I’m less intrigued now that I know what category it fits into, even though some of Taylor’s points (like loving your body as a baby would!) are great.
    I loved my fitbit for a couple years, then started getting a rash from the band and haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would. I liked some of the features like seeing my sleep cycles at night and my heart rate throughout a workout, but having to take it off was a good reminder that I’m still able to sleep and work out without it. I know some people love the numbers, but I definitely think it’s worth recognizing the difference between doing something because it’s good for the body and doing something because we’re addicted to the numbers game.

    Like

    • The way you talk about your fitbit reminds me of a lot of bloggers I followed back when I first got on WordPress. People talked about their stats — followers, likes, daily views — obsessively. I didn’t even realize that in the last few years the blogging culture has changed, but it has, at least where I’m sitting, and folks are doing fine without looking at and obsessing over the numbers.

      Yeah, I’d definitely call Taylor’s book more of a self-help work even though she says it’s not going to help you do x, y, and z.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the idea of living NOW when it comes to our bodies. After having babies, there was always this period when nothing fit and I felt like I shouldn’t buy new clothes but then felt miserable because nothing fit! Looking back, I wish I had just embraced the body that was right there at that moment. And little kids are such a good example of self love! My girls just love their bodies and use them without second guessing. They look at themselves in the mirror with such joy!

    Like

    • I can tell from the photos that your kids love their bodies. They wear and do the funniest things, and make some goofy faces, and seeing them always reminds me that bodies get us around so that we can experience life. They aren’t vehicles for our shame. Based on how they feel, I’ll bet you don’t talk poorly about bodies in front of them, too, which is fantastic. They will learn negative talk SO YOUNG.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This comment makes me SO happy! We have definitely tried from a very young age and since Pearl was a baby I have always made an effort to speak about my own body only positively. When I exercise or talk about exercising or what we eat, we always talk about keeping our bodies strong and healthy and since we don’t own a scale, they only associate weight with something that’s checked at the doctor’s office. And it’s made a big difference in my own mind too, having to consciously think and talk about my body more like a useful machine than a decorative object. And I love the way their personalities shine through in their clothing choices!

        Like

        • The thing that I try to remember about a doctor’s office is it’s important to be weighed because a large shift in weight, either losing or gaining, can often be a sign of something bad. But if you’re doctor is saying, “Hey, you put on ten pounds. Watch that,” then what they’re doing is not effective.

          My mom was the most vile person to her own upper arms. To the point where I thought it was normal for women to never EVER wear anything sleeveless. I didn’t think much about it until my sister-in-law start saying things about her arms, which is when I realized my mom’s negative talking was affecting someone who typically always wore tank tops. I’m at a point in my life where I will not listen to anyone talk negatively about their, or another person’s, body. It literally makes me physically ill. It’s pointless, it’s humiliating, it’s dangerous for both the body being discussed and people we haven’t yet met. If we think anything about ourselves is bad, it’s very hard to see how someone with a different type of body has a good body. It’s not only tied in to fat activism, but racism, disable bodies, and bullying.

          Liked by 1 person

          • One of the things I loved about my doctor when I was pregnant is that even though I was always weighed as part of my appointments we never, ever talked about weight. Keeping track was obviously needed but it was clearly done simply for medical purposes. It kind of changed my whole idea of what weight could mean.

            It’s strange and sad how abnormal it is to like your own body. Complaining about bodies can be such a weird bonding experience among women and when you refuse to participate, or say something you like about yourself it can feel really alienating.

            Like

            • It’s so HARD to not participate with other women tearing themselves down because it’s so normalized that they think you’re being rude. I’m hoping it’s a cultural thing that goes away soon, and depending on the family or work place, individuals can model appropriate behavior around this.

              I was just talking with another blogger about how important weight is when pregnant because some women feel they are supposed to have swollen joints, etc. but that it can be a sign of preeclampsia.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I’m hopeful that there is a shift occurring. More people do seem to understand that it’s not okay to criticize or comment on the bodies of children, they just don’t quite get that they need to stop doing it about their own bodies or the bodies of other grown women. (This is an ongoing struggle I have with my own mother.)

                Yes! Weight can give us information and it makes sense to keep track during something like pregnancy. At the same time, there is a WIDE range of weight gain that can be healthy and that can look really different from one woman to the next, or even from one pregnancy to the next. I wish more people understood that. (That’s not directed at you, just at people in general who still feel it’s ok to comment on pregnant people’s bodies!)

                Like

                • First, I did not realize people commented on pregnant women’s bodies — what a drag! The most I ever hear is when someone looks “tiny” for how far along or “omg, she’s about to drop” when she’s really big. My coworker at the library was pregnant last year, and people often asked how far along she was, which is personal.

                  Oddly, I DO hear people comment on children and baby bodies. They’re chunky, chubby, a good eater, precious, adorable, cute, hefty, “a little man” — even the positive comments about babies and children teach us and them that standard bodies are beautiful.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • They do! And it sucks! People have lots of opinions on pregnant women’s bodies. What they’re wearing, what they’re eating, how they look. But my absolute least favourite was people who wanted to touch my belly. (If I know you and you ask, sure. Strangers, absolutely not and it’s weird to even ask.)

                    Yes, I don’t love when people comment on my girls looks or bodies, Even though it’s always been complimentary it still makes me uncomfortable because it seems to reduce them to the way they look.

                    Liked by 1 person

  7. I read this awhile back and unfortunately I can’t remember much of it… but I do agree that the definition of radical self-love does sound a bit vague. One difficulty I remember having with the book was that for the first half, it seemed to make its points over and over again, detailing each way structures can contribute to body shame. While the first few examples were revelatory, I found the succeeding ones taxing to read. That baby metaphor, though. Also, I found the story of how she came up with the title so moving, the one about her friend with cerebral palsy not wanting to make a big deal of needing a condom because of her disability.

    Like

Insert 2 Cents Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s