It’s difficult to love everything about yourself. Everyone has that one blemish that irks to no end–some have many. Whether it’s your height, weight, big nose or wrinkles, our everyday lives have a real knack for making us feel bad about ourselves. It might be a magazine advertisement for hair products that reminds us of our ever-thinning locks; or, perhaps it’s that guy at our high school reunion who still fits into his old uniform.
We even face it on social networking sites like Facebook–we’ve all uploaded that photo of us looking picture-perfect while untagging ourselves from the one taken at the worst possible angle.
Sonya Renee has something to say about that.
This local performance artist, poet and activist for radical self-love works tirelessly to encourage us to ignore those voices telling us we’re not good enough. Whether it’s through her impressive spoken-word poetry or The Body is Not an Apology–an international movement for body empowerment founded by Renee–this remarkable woman is making changes in our perceptions of ourselves.
Beginning as an amateur spoken-word poet making her rounds at Baltimore-area open-mic nights, Renee quickly climbed the poetry slam ropes. In just a little over a year after discovering her passion for performance poetry, Renee became the National Individual Poetry Slam Champion.
“I instantly fell in love. I was completely overwhelmed with what an amazing experience it was,” recalls Renee of her humble beginnings. And she hasn’t slowed down since. Her passion has exploded into a fulfilling career. Though a Baltimore resident (and enthusiast), Renee spends much of her time traveling internationally to spread her message. Whether it’s performing at a college campus abroad or working as a teaching artist for Lyrical Minded–an arts program for at-risk and mentally-ill youth in California–she is a true spokesperson for social justice.
One of her most beloved projects, The Body is Not an Apology, is rapidly gaining international support from those who also strive to value themselves. Beginning with a Facebook post of a potentially unflattering photo of Renee captioned “I feel beautiful, and I encourage you to post a picture where you feel beautiful, too,” this movement is a communal way to change perceptions of the self.
“However it is we exist in our beings is divine, beautiful and perfect…Any change that we make to ourselves should be rooted on a foundation of self-love. If we don’t love ourselves first, change is not sustainable,” explains Renee, adding, “We believe that radical self-love is the foundation for radical human love, and therefore a vehicle to social justice.”
This movement, which has exploded across social media sites like Facebook and Tumblr, empowers humans to ignore “body terrorism”–which is, as Renee describes it, “the social and economic machine that profits off our self-loathing.” The Body is Not an Apology seeks to reveal the truth behind these messages, thus allowing us to become conscious of the “pure love” within. The group often uses exercises like “Bad Picture Monday”–which is exactly what it sounds like–to strip away embarrassment at our bodies, making us comfortable with every aspect of ourselves and, ultimately, each other.
The Body is Not an Apology’s most recent endeavor, The RUHCUS Project (Radically Unapologetic Healing Challenge 4 Us), is another such exercise toward self- satisfaction.
“It’s really about detaching ourselves from pain, shame, trauma and fear in our lives,” explains Renee. “It involves focusing on that thing that we feel had been hindering our ability to live our fullest lives…Focusing on ways in which you can radically change your relationship to that, in community.”
This project–another idea that manifested “accidentally” for Renee–involves drastically stepping out of one’s comfort zone for thirty full days to attain body empowerment. Experiences are shared by those taking on RUHCUS projects, thereby lending communal support during times of weakness. Although each project is individually suited to each person, a sense of partnership develops for those taking on the challenge.
“It’s been an amazing journey, to see how possible healing is when we commit to it, and when we commit to it in community,” says Renee.
And this community is always expanding.
“The Body is Not an Apology is a movement for everybody. There are so many ways in which we are shamed for our bodies, whether it’s based on sexual identities or our racial identities…The Body is Not an Apology is really about how we deconstruct all those messages against all of those groups,” says Renee.
The epicenter of this movement can be found at thebodyisnotanapology.com, although it’s already spread throughout Facebook (The Body is Not an Apology) and Twitter (radicalbodylove). Sonya Renee’s upcoming tour dates and further information on this inspiring woman can be found at sonya-renee.com.