“Radical self-love summons us to be our most expansive selves, knowing that the more unflinchingly powerful we allow ourselves to be, the more unflinchingly powerful others feel capable of being. Our unapologetic embrace of our bodies gives others permission to unapologetically embrace theirs.”
—Sonya Renee Taylor, The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love
When I was ten years old, I learned that I needed glasses. While I remember the shock of seeing leaves on trees for the first time, what I remember more profoundly was wearing my glasses to dance class.
In my mind, I was an extraordinary dancer. I knew what felt right in my body, and—because I could not see myself as anything but a blob in the mirrors surrounding us—I was able to rely solely on how dancing felt.
But when I showed up to dance class in my glasses, I learned that my dancing body did not look at all like I imagined. What had felt just-right was revealed to be awkward or wrong: my knees were too bent, or my elbows too high, or my head too crooked. While I am certain that my dancing “improved” when my vision did, I am equally certain that my dancing changed. I was more self-conscious and hesitant. I was less able to rely on what I knew felt right.
In recent years, I started to dream several times a week about dance. In the fifteen years since I have danced, my body has changed dramatically due to normal aging, illness, and chronic health conditions. The thought of dancing again after multiple surgeries was intimidating. I was unsure of how (or if) my body would move, and how (or if) my body would be able to generate and sustain movements. Regardless, I took the frightening leap of registering for an adult dance class—having no idea what to expect.
When I got home from my first class, my partner asked how it went.
“I was terrible,” I laughed. “And it was so good.”
Dancing again has meant unlearning all the rules and judgment and expectations I carried, and learning how to move my body in the ways that feel right. Amazingly, my body remembers how ten-year-old me felt before I got glasses: my internal sense of rightness, of grace, of strength has persisted all these years.
I wish ten-year-old me had known how to love the terrible moves: the bent knees, the crooked head, the too-high elbows. The scars, the glasses, the things my body will not do. Embodying myself, focusing only on what feels right, allowing myself to be terrible at a thing I love is the ultimate act of self-care. Embodying all of me is the best way I know to love the world.
God of many names, may we find the courage to attune to our smart and powerful bodies. May we know the ways we collectively thrive when we bring our whole selves to any place. As we unlearn what does not serve and relearn embodiment and joy, may we experience the freedom of our fullest selves. Amen.