On Body Image and Radical Self Love

A Lesson In The Woods

Since it’s been cooling off this week, I decided to head out into the woods yesterday and check out some pieces of trail that have been re-worked by our Land Trust that I haven’t seen yet. I was already listening to one of my “news summary” podcasts in my car and so I just stuck it in my ears as I started hiking to finish it up. Then, the next thing in the queue that played was this episode of Unlocking Us with Brené Brown.

I have to be in the mood for an episode of this podcast because they tend to require a certain level of focus I’m not always capable of, but I thought: What better way to focus than alone in the woods? and just let the episode continue to play.


The interview was with Sonya Renee Taylor who writes and teaches about radical self love which – if you’ll recall – is the phrasing I’ve been using lately instead of body positivity when I’m talking about how to love my body. She wrote a book called The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love and if that title alone doesn’t say: this is something Kim needs to read I don’t know if you really know me.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast but I did want to pull out some of the pieces that had me in the woods enjoying a spiritual reckoning of sorts.

The two women spent some time unpacking how our society has this structure of what “success” looks like and who deserves to be treated the best and rewarded accordingly with power and justice and money. In the early days it was white land-holding men. Honestly, today, there’s not much of a difference – but – these hierarchies show up to different marginalized groups in different ways. Gender non-conforming people want to make sure they “pass” to avoid negative treatment. Gay men tone down flamboyance or Black people code switch. Today, especially with women, we hold this hierarchy in how we strive for “improvement” with weight loss or lighter skin or anti-aging creams or hair dye.

These hierarchies have each of us creating these goals (consciously or otherwise) to make our bodies more accepted, or to help us climb this ladder of hierarchy. Sonya and Brené discuss that “body” doesn’t just refer to the shape of our corporeal frame. It also encompasses race and mind and voice and gender and all of the ways our bodies exist in the world. Even academic pursuits can be considered pursuits of the body.

So the point of Radical Self Love is to dig into the why of these pursuits and goal-setting to see if we’re truly honoring what we were born to do.

Once we remove the obstructions that have us believing we have to try to become…we will just become exactly what it is we are supposed to be.

Sonya Renee Taylor on Unlocking Us with Brené Brown

There are big systems in our world that depend on this hierarchy. While we are all currently looking at the ways these systems are racist, they’re all set up to make us hate who we are (or to raise ourselves up by hating the “other”) and want to become someone else. For example, this extraction capitalism we live in makes us want to strive to make more money and to have more things and to simply ignore the effects on the people living in poverty or the planet around us.

My mind just exploded thinking about these hierarchies that underline all of the oppressive systems in our world. It’s still exploding as I write this. It’s funny…the big picture of these concepts I actually can grasp because it just makes sense. I have always felt like I’m striving to be a different/”better” version of myself and I can easily see the abstract influence these hierarchies have on that mindset and those pursuits.

But…It’s a hard thing to unpack in practical ways because it seems so unsettling and disorienting to think about how many decisions I make at the encouragement of this hierarchy that I’m not even conscious of. This is why I need to buy her book as soon as someone in this house gets an income again.

But, she breaks it down into a smaller bite during another moment in the podcast talking about the “WHAT” and the “WHY” of making decisions relating to our body. Brené starts talking about how she gets a lot of hate when she talks about how she’s “Keto.” Brené knows that things like “Keto” do have a negative impact on society as it is most often used as a method to lose weight, which means it helps to uphold these systems of hierarchy. But for her, being keto helps her energy levels etc. She’s not doing it to lose weight, so what does she do with the pushback?

Sonya helps her see how you can have a good “WHY” but your “WHAT” can be supporting these hierarchies, so you have to adjust how you talk about and describe your WHAT. We need to quit attaching ourselves to these tools of the hierarchy. Can we get to that WHY (having more energy) without engaging in the WHAT (a named diet system that people use to lose weight) that is harmful? You can avoid carb loading without ascribing it to this system that supports continued harmful conversations around weight loss.

Brené admits she knew there was a disconnect because she talks about how she can’t follow a bunch of keto instagram accounts even though they have great recipes because they keep coming back to reaching weight loss goals which is not her WHY. So we have to find language that better aligns our WHYs to not continue to uphold these negative WHATs. Which takes some really digging into our WHYs to make sure there’s not anything harmful underneath it. I just love the idea of really digging into my WHYs and my WHATs as I orient myself toward the future and challenging myself to make sure my WHY is not to keep climbing this false hierarchy and to choose WHATs that dismantle it as well.

I do think for me – a lot of my deep rooted WHYs relate to comparison and I really like this quote from the podcast.

Every time I’m in that space of comparison, I am the cog holding up oppression.

Sonya Renee Taylor on Unlocking Us with Brené Brown

I’m definitely going to be more conscious of that because I definitely compare myself to people constantly and place myself under them on that hierarchy ladder. She’s a better Mom, she’s a better wife, she’s a better activist, she’s a better caregiver, she’s got a nicer home, she’s got a better style….And now I just need to remind myself that when I’m in that headspace of comparison…I AM PART OF THE PROBLEM.

Lining up our WHY and our WHAT is how we get to the radical self love motive inside of us, and how we live that motive externally.

Sonya Renee Taylor on Unlocking Us with Brené Brown

My mind just kept lighting up over and over and over again alone in the woods. At one point I cried sitting on a rock. At another point I simply closed my eyes and spun around for a moment on the trail. One of my favorite sentiments that really helps motivate me to dig more into her work is this one:

Radical self love is an internal journey that impacts our external reality.

Sonya Renee Taylor on Unlocking Us with Brené Brown

The idea that loving myself radically could change the world around me, is one that I can really get behind. She talks about how if we all agree to quit using this damn ladder of hierarchy, it stops existing. She talks about how we – as humans – recognize the need for diversity in the trees in our forest and the animals on our planet but we tend to have this weird mentality that pushes us to thinking all humans need to strive to be like this “model” of perfection we all have been brainwashed to believe is some sort of goal.

There was so much good stuff in this podcast, but one more small moment between the two women that I loved, was Brené kinda mocking herself because she said she liked the mantra from the book “My body is my ally” but then she recognized that sometimes she does a bit of performative allyship in that situation.

And oh, man. I know exactly what she means. Earlier in my hike I was trying to set up a photo thinking This will be a great example of showing I am loving my body even though it is 50lbs heavier than it used to be. But if I take a moment to dig into the WHY of that photo, that wasn’t really it. What I really wanted was some performative allyship to pretend like I was loving this body. Because really I hated the first few photos I took (so the WHY was obviously NOT proving I love this body) because I was wearing a boxy t-shirt that I felt made me look fatter and so I decided to just wear the sports bra which would appear even braver even though I wasn’t actually hiking like that because I’m embarrassed and…well…do you see how different my WHY actually was when I dug down a bit? On the surface my WHY felt very “body positive” but there was really no radical self love or I would have just looked at that first picture with the shirt and said, “I love you. I truly TRULY love you.”

It was just a beautiful hike through the woods listening to two amazing women discuss radical self love and I found the whole experience spiritual in the same way I used to find church retreats that had me fueled on sleep deprivation and religious iconography.

2 thoughts on “A Lesson In The Woods”

  1. I found Renee at the beginning of the “now everyone is finally talking about racism” phase of quarantine. I wanted to expand my Instagram viewing and am SOOOO glad I did. Her “check-ins” of “hey y’all” are fabulous. I haven’t gotten to the Brene Brown conversation yet but am really looking forward to it.
    Your self awareness through the photo sessions should be commended by the way.

  2. Thank you for writing and teaching through your blog. I always learn something. Thank you for the book and podcast recommendation. I will be getting both. You have no idea how many people you touch with your writing. Thank you.

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