The Body is not an Apology
Member of the Butterfly Collective Bridget shares how “The Body Is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor is helping in her recovery from an eating disorder.
Years ago, when writing about my experience of self-love I wrote: “Loving this body feels too much like polishing silver at the table of a burning home”
Whilst the aspiring poet in me is perhaps a little angsty, the sentiment still rings true to me. For as long as I can remember I have been at war with my body. I have fought against it depriving it of what it needs. In periods where I was doing better, I strived for self-acceptance. I thought “I’m unhappy with my body, but at least it lets me do the things I love.”
One day I came across a book by the wonderful Sonya Renee Taylor, the title immediately called to me from the bookshelf: “The Body is Not an Apology”.
Early in the book it states:
“Concepts like self-acceptance and body neutrality are not without value. When you have spent your entire life at war with your body, these models offer a truce. But you can have more than a cease-fire. You can have radical self-love.”
Although it may not be everyone’s truth, Sonya’s words really resonated with my experience. Whilst it is a welcome change, my self-acceptance still feels somewhat hollow when viewing my body as solely a means to achieving something.
I desperately want my body to be a home I can return to; but when you are living in a burning home you spend so much time fleeing from yourself. Still the concept of self-love felt somewhat futile, like polishing silver whilst the furniture was burning beside me.
If this resonates with you it is important to recognise, you did not light the fire. But unfortunately, it is our task to put it out (with help), to create a home within ourselves we feel safe returning to.
Here are some things I learnt from Sonya Renee Taylor that are helping me in my journey.
“Self-love is our natural state”
We did not enter the worlds at war with ourselves. Often the hatred we harbour was gifted to us, whether it was from a cruel friend, a social media ad or a well-meaning mum. For me it was an event that made me lose trust with my body and the way I believed it could keep me safe. But the thing I learnt from the wisdom of Sonya is, it is a gift we are not obligated to keep.
Give it back, return to sender, get a refund if you can. It is not your shame to carry. You did not ask for it nor are you obligated to keep it.
Now, I know this is not an easy thing to do. For those of us with an eating disorder it’s especially hard. Many of us become so entangled with the eating disorder voice we cannot separate it from who we are and who we were before we were taught to hate our bodies. The eating disorder invades our home, it tells us we are not worthy, and we are undeserving. It is insidious, it has told me again and again I cannot survive without it.
But I can no longer trust something that is trying to harm me.
“The body is not an apology”
From the moment we can talk we are taught all the things we must apologise for, forced to walk an impossible tight rope between being “too much” or “not enough”. There are so many subtle ways we apologise; in how we dress, not speaking up, in making ourselves small. Sorry feels a familiar language for me. I remember my first boss telling me I had to give her a dollar for every time I apologised. Trying to reduce the space I occupy has been, yet another dollar wasted, another unwarranted apology I felt compelled to give.
Even within my eating disorder I struggle walking the tight rope between feeling “too sick to function” and “not sick enough”, again, finding my eating disorder knocking at the door demanding apologies either way.
I am attempting to unlearn this inherited language of apology, passed down by the many before me who too were taught, we must apologise for existing in our own skin.
Sonya poses the questions: “What if we all became committed to the idea that no one should have to apologize for being a human in a body? How might we change our lives?”
I would encourage you to reflect on these questions and how apology functions within your own life and body image.
Making peace with not understanding
So much of my own experience has been driven by my need for control and understanding. As part of her “three peace’s” Sonya proposes that making peace with not understanding is an essential aspect of self-love. She states:
“Understanding is not a prerequisite for honour, love, or respect. I know extraordinarily little about the stars, but I honour their beauty.”
For me this means letting go of control and need for understanding. My need to know why, why this happened? Why the eating disorder invited itself in? Why have I spent so long at war with my body?
We can love and accept our bodies without full understanding and control over how and why they move, feel and look the way they do.
“They are not right or wrong, they just are.”
Slowly through small acts of self-love, I am peeling back the hate ridden wallpaper of my home and creating a space I can feel safe in. It is a slow process it can be hard to feel like you will ever get there. I still find my eating disorder knocking at the door at times, matches in hand telling me it can light a fire to keep me warm. But I am learning to trust that it is a liar, I am learning trust the people who support me, I am learning to love myself in the way I was born too.
I hope you can too, you deserve nothing less.
Written by Bridget Hennah
Purchase ‘The Body Is Not an Apology’
The Body is Not an Apology offers radical self-love as the balm to heal the wounds inflicted by these violent systems. World-renowned activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor invites us to reconnect with the radical origins of our minds and bodies and celebrate our collective, enduring strength. As we awaken to our own indoctrinated body shame, we feel inspired to awaken others and to interrupt the systems that perpetuate body shame and oppression against all bodies. When we act from this truth on a global scale, we usher in the transformative opportunity of radical self-love, which is the opportunity for a more just, equitable, and compassionate world – for us all.
The Body Is Not an Apology is available to purchase from the Butterfly shop – every purchase helps fund Butterfly’s vital work in supporting people living with eating disorders and body image concerns.
Taylor, S. R. (2021). The body is not an apology (2nd ed.). Berrett-Koehler.