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Activist Sonya Renee Taylor on Practicing Self-Love

Travel back in time to your earliest memory of body shame. Remember the first time someone told you something was wrong with you. Feel the emotional impact held within a deceivingly simple comment. Years later, do you feel the same searing sting of those words?

Now imagine what you would say to your young self, and formulate the words that you most desperately needed to hear in that crucial moment. Today, you can be the superhero in your own story.

This is how award-winning author, activist, and poet Sonya Renee Taylor introduced her life’s work, which focuses on making peace with one’s body and others’ bodies in order to outwardly promote a compassionate society.

On Thursday Sept. 28, The Women and Gender Studies Program invited Taylor to teach her workshop entitled Ten Tools for Radical Self Love. Taylor is the founder of The Body Is Not an Apology, an international digital media and educational organization dedicated to promoting self-love through online campaigns, speeches, and community building.

When did we learn to hate our bodies?

Babies cry about pretty much everything, but have you ever witnessed a toddler burst into tears because his butt looked too big in a diaper? The answer is probably never, because not only is that ridiculous, but babies love their bellies— more rolls equals more places to hide cheerios.

Taylor explains, “We started in love with our bodies. You came here as radical self-love.” Children are naturally free from the burden of body shame. They parade around half-naked, oblivious to concepts such as modesty, and are fascinated by the uniqueness of human physiques. They do not search for a deeper meaning in physical differences; they do not judge.

Stigmas attached to physical appearances are learned. Prejudices based on traits like gender, race, and weight are instilled in each mind by individual cultures. That universally familiar pang of insecurity is a product of the idea that there is some “should.” As a result, people turn to skin lighteners, aging products, hair relaxers, diet pills, anything that can rip away the pieces of individuality that simply do not fit within the supposed cookie cutter ideal.

Whose agenda is self-hate?

Taylor asserts, “There is political and economic benefit to your self-hate.” These feelings of inadequacy are manipulated by businesses and authorities in order to maintain power.

The global beauty market is projected to earn $265 billion in revenue in 2017, which is absolutely astounding. It is estimated women spend $12,000 to $15,000 on beauty products yearly. Yet, when Taylor polled the audience during her speech on how they would spend this amount of money if she were to hand it to them right then, nobody’s immediate thought was to spend it all on highlighter at Sephora. The answers ranged from vacations to student loans—which incited an amusing combination of groaning and clapping. Essentially, it became clear that these physical standards thrust upon people are not truly what they care about. Family, friends, and experiences hold so much more emotional value than one’s jean size.

While individuals can rationalize that physical appearance is highly overrated in society, it is difficult to erase a concept that has been ingrained within the infrastructure of many communities. The United States literally wrote within its Constitution that only white, land-owning, able-bodied men could vote. By excluding races, genders, and disabled members of society, the founders successfully created a hierarchy of bodies and social order. It is a system designed to oppress and make certain people feel helpless.

Taylor emphasizes that body shame is a deeply concerning reality that affects everyone. She insists, “I’m not just talking about makeup or weight loss; I’m talking about the way in which our society deals with bodies and the horrors that bodies have to live under in this society.”

She has also coined the phenomenon of “body terrorism”. While many may accuse her of hyperbole, Taylor maintains that body hatred is the root cause of segregation, genocide, and senseless violence worldwide. Yet, with conscious efforts made by individuals to relearn how to love themselves and others, she feels there is hope left to be had.

How do we repair our relationships with our bodies?

In order to begin the process of “birthing a new body,” as Taylor puts it, one must first open themselves to the possibility of love. It is crucial to understand that self-care is not self-indulgence—it is self-preservation.

But where do you begin? How can one challenge this powerful system and make peace within oneself? This is where Taylor’s “ten tools” come into play. For those interested in learning how to develop a healthier self-image, here are a few of her most important tips for beginning this journey.

Dump the Junk—Stop listening to commercials, TV shows, and magazines that promote changing yourself in order to fit some ideal.

Meditate on a New Mantra—Create a motto for yourself and write it daily. Repetition creates new pathways in your brain, encouraging change.

Be in Movement—Be active, but do what makes you happy. Take a dance class, join a walking club, and try to enjoy every activity you choose to do.

Give Yourself Some Grace—Nobody is perfect. Allow yourself to have bad days, and just remember to show yourself some kindness.

These steps are simple, but not necessarily easy. At a school like Boston College, where “justice” is dropped almost every other word in many classes, making a positive impact in the world is hugely emphasized. Loving oneself may seem insignificant, yet it is a great stride in promoting a more peaceful existence and answering the call to serve.

While you cannot travel back in time to save your younger self from harsh words, you can work to stop their echoes from affecting your self confidence today.

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