I was a child who loved poetry. I wrote my own poems—they were often a mess, and that was fine. I went to performing arts schools throughout middle school and high school, so I also felt much love for the stage. Then, in 2003, these two worlds met when I was introduced to performance poetry. I didn’t know it existed before then. I went up, read a poem, and instantly fell in love; it was like, Oh, this is what you’re supposed to do.
After that, I started going to open mic events almost every night of the week. I became immersed in the community. Shortly thereafter, within a couple of weeks, someone introduced me to poetry slam. I ended up competing and came in third place that night. And within 14 months, I ended up winning the National Individual Poetry Slam Champion title. I decided to quit my job and became a full-time poet. Writing and performing poetry, traveling around the world to participate in poetry slam, that’s what the next decade of my life looked like. It wasn’t until 2011, when The Body Is Not An Apology was founded, that I started to transition. But poetry is how all other things were born.
My written work always ended up talking about the body; about injustice; about my particular perspective on building a more compassionate and equitable planet. The Body Is Not An Apology started off as a poem I wrote following a conversation with a friend where I said those exact words to her: your body is not an apology.
After I wrote the poem it just kept growing. It had an agenda; it wanted to be something in the world. Every time I performed it on stage, it offered me some deeper level of reflection about my own journey in my own body. It was the poem that inspired me to start the Facebook group (of the same name) as an exploration of radical self-love. The Facebook group is how the blog grew, and the blog is how the company grew.
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Radical self-love is not something you have to achieve. I understand the word radical to mean, quite literally, something that is inherent; something that is already in us and that speaks to the origin of who we are. In order to radically love ourselves, we have to understand what is blocking the natural flow of what we came onto this planet with. The world we have created tells us we are insufficient, failing, and unworthy. That our bodies and identities aren’t ok. In order to counter that kind of extremity, I believe we need to have an extreme kind of relationship to love in our own beings.
The term radical also signifies drastic political, economic, and social change. The intention for me and my work is such that we love in a way that can change the systems and structures of society. What happens if everything that we build, create, and advocate for as a collective comes from the foundation of love? We would have a dramatically-transformed world.
That’s because the policies, the legislations, and the systems within which we exist are a manifestation of our own belief in our not enoughness. When we believe that we’re not enough, we have to figure out some way to gain our worthiness.
What we do when we are not in the right relationship with ourselves is we externalize our enoughness. We decide that we are worthy if insert conditions. For example: we are worthy if we amass enough money. We are worthy if we hold power and domination over others. We are worthy if we have a better body, however we choose to define it. We create a hierarchy of identities that forces us to scale up the ladder in order to feel enough.
In my book, The Body Is Not An Apology, I encourage us to think about the body that we, as a society, say is the most valuable. What are the attributes of that body? What race is that body? What size is that body? What gender is that body? What age is that body? Those markers make up what I call the default body. That’s the body that we legislate for. That’s the body that we build systems for. That’s the body that receives the most. Bodies further down the ladder receive less. They are legislated against. All of that is because we are invested in this ladder.
The policies, the legislations, and the systems within which we exist are a manifestation of our own belief in our not enoughness.
We live in a world that is built on domination and extraction. We are forced to externally define our worthiness, meaning our sense of self becomes tied to capitalism. People like Jeff Bezos wouldn’t be thinking about getting richer, if getting richer didn’t inform how he understands himself. And these systems of domination and extraction get played out on the planet too. We feel like we need to take and take and take in order to feel like we are ever enough. It’s unsustainable. Ultimately, that hole of not enoughness is a sieve. It’s impossible to fill.
When we radically love ourselves, when we accept ourselves, we start to love our surroundings, too. Radical self-love becomes a filter through which we see the world. It informs farming, forest regeneration, ocean conservation. It allows us to exist in full, and reminds us that we are not separate from the Earth.
One way of practicing radical self-love is to become intentionally and intimately aware of what we are taking in that is counter to the message of loving oneself. For example: how can we learn to identify the distinction between the outside voice and the inside voice? I find that the one speaking to me as if I am insufficient is not my own authentic voice, it is a voice of indoctrination. I call this the thinking, doing, being process. The first step requires us to actually raise consciousness to that which has been unconscious; that voice of indoctrination. We need to recognize it without shame: I had that thought. I don’t like it. I’m not committed to keeping it. And that’s all right. The second step is to say, What is the opposite action of the thought I just had? If this is what I normally do, what does a different reaction look like? That way, we are rewiring our brain to go from a mindset of scarcity to one of affirmation. It’s an exponential process.
I may not have all the details about what a world built on radical self-love looks like, but I’m very clear about what it ain’t. The more we practice it in our own lives, the more attuned we become to what liberation feels like—both on an individual level and on a societal level. After all, if you don’t have any experience of driving on the road to liberation, you’ll pass it.
Practicing self-love means building a community of people who take care of themselves in vibrant and beautiful ways, who have a desire to care for one another in deep and meaningful ways. It means recognizing the interconnection of all life. The illusion of separation falls away. What we’re left with is the knowledge that we are responsible for each other. That we are worthy precisely because we are responsible for one another. I believe that a world of radical self- love is one where we are joyfully interdependent.