Our bodies are complicated, but they should not be hard to love. For so many of us, we struggle with figuring out how to love our bodies and find self-acceptance when confronted with multiple forms of political and social oppression. In an op-ed for xoJane, Roxane Gay wrote, “We want but we dare not have. To lose weight or maintain our ideal bodies, we deny ourselves certain foods. We deny ourselves rest by working out. We deny ourselves peace of mind by remaining ever vigilant over our bodies. We withhold from ourselves until we achieve a goal and then we withhold from ourselves to maintain that goal.”
But denial can only last for so long. And when we give up the vigil, we let go of a false ideal and embrace what’s true. It’s art allows us to perceive our bodies in other ways. For me, reading has been life-changing in its ability to inform and shape my self-love. Author Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha recently completed the poetry collection Bodymap, documenting her evolving relationship with her physical and political selves. There are a lot of surprising things that happen on that journey.
Below are some of the most uncommon discoveries she made in the process of both writing and learning to love her body.
1. You find love within communities
Loving your body allows you to connect with other people who accept and embrace their own bodies. In her writing, Piepzna-Samarasinha is invested in the concept of transformative love.
"As a disabled, working class queer femme of color survivor, I am in love and awe of the transformative love I have searched for, invented and been blessed to make and receive in my life. Love that is resistance, that transforms and heals the pain of oppression and trauma. I love stubbornly, despite the pressures of homonormativity — that being queer, and especially being queer, femme, a survivor, working class, of color and disabled — means we are able to dream up loves, lovers and friend family that are so much better and more complicated than the normcore nuclear family that is sold to us as the only way to live, which is actually a site of an enormous amount of violence."
Once you've addressed the fundamental hierarchy of needs — particularly safety — the world expands. And that's when things in life start to get a lot more fun.
2. You demand more than the bare minimum from your existence
People who love their bodies recognize that they are beings who deserve more than merely getting by in the world. In her poem "diaspora," Piepzna-Samarasinha describes the "small miracles we survive on, so much less than we deserve." So what are we entitled to in our lives? What do we dare to want?
"I think we deserve everything. I want it all. For all of us," says Piepzna-Samarasinha. "Justice, joy, roots, wings, safety, freedom."
And speaking of desires...
3. Sensuality becomes a way of life
People who love themselves are in touch with their bodies. And they want those bodies to be touched.
"The process of writing so many of the poems about disability — my crip body, disabled queer trans people of color (QTPOC) community, finding each other at the clinic and the BART elevator — coincided with many poems that came from two big loves with lovers who were disabled. I literally prayed for these loves, and I will always be grateful for what they gifted me with. Being able to make and receive access intimacy with lovers allowed my body to show up fully in a way I'd never experienced before. This lead to some of the best sex and love I'd ever experienced."
Love your community. Love your body. And let that love open the world to you.