[REPOST] EHF Fellow: Sonya Renee Taylor

SPREAD THE WORD: The Body is Not An Apology

Intrepid traveller, creative muser and growing optimist, bringing together global impact ventures in New Zealand with Edmund Hillary Fellowship www.ehf.org

First came the poem. Then came the photograph of herself, posted online one evening. After that came the Facebook group, which rapidly grew into a publishing and education platform that now attracts 250,000 unique monthly views to content produced by a team of 25 people from around the world.

A recently accepted Fellow in Edmund Hillary Fellowship’s inaugural cohort, Sonya Renee Taylor never intentionally set out to start a radical movement of self love. But as pivotal moments of personal experience unfolded, and friends around her struggled with social and economic circumstances tied up within their identities, it became clear to her how central our perspectives and relationships with our bodies are in the systemic problems in our society.

As a child who grew up at the intersection of multiple experiences and identities, Sonya began thinking early on about how we understand our bodies and the bodies of others. A child of teen parents, with a disabled brother, in a military family navigating addiction and mental illness, she saw how these intersections impacted the ability of those around her to fully love and accept themselves.

Later, as an adult working in a diverse range of sectors including at-risk youth, mental illness, public health, sexuality & HIV and the arts, she noticed that not only did identities influence relationships with self, but they also impact our relationships with others. In addition to the symbiotic relationship between humans with regards to how we interact with each other and the bodies we occupy, the systems and structures that are part of our daily lives further influence and inform these perspectives about our bodies.

“I began to realise that while all issues were not specifically about the body, the impact of all issues were felt on the body and how we felt about bodies informed our social, political, economic and cultural landscape. I began to see the key to social change, equity and justice as the work of making peace with bodies.”
- Sonya Renee Taylor
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Sonya is the founder and radical executive officer of The Body is Not An Apology, a digital media and education company who uses the framework of radical self-love and body empowerment to address global social justice issues. Built upon the core belief that discrimination, social inequality, and injustice are manifestations of our inability to make peace with the body, both our own and others, the company provides a platform for information dissemination, education, and community building. The rapid growth of the platform and its reach has taken Sonya beyond the web to writing a book, The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self Love, to be released in February 2018.

The photograph that kicked it all off was a mirror-selfie of Sonya getting dressed one evening before a poetry show. She felt both sexy and attractive in the image but was also aware of the voice of criticism and self-doubt that was in her head. The self-doubt kept her from sharing the photo for four months. The night she shared the photo, she encouraged other friends to share empowered photos of their bodies as well.

Sonya believed there should be a digital space for people to celebrate their bodies and unapologetically affirm one another. As a widely-recognised and accomplished performance poet (she won National Individual Poetry Slam title in the US in 2004), she had a poem that felt was the perfect sentiment for such a space. That was the night she created the Facebook page for The Body is Not An Apology.

With deep commitment to service, Sonya views her mission as one of using her gifts and enabling others to address systemic societal injustices and challenges. And she deeply believes this work needs to start with ourselves.

“We cannot do the important work of transforming the world, without transforming the way that we view ourselves. How can we fix the world’s problems, when we aren’t even able to fully accept ourselves?” 
- Sonya Renee Taylor

Sonya has visited New Zealand on several occasions, and counts the friendliness and openness of the communities she encountered as a reason to further build upon her work here. Taking her activism and turning it into a popular and successful online movement that is gaining more traction every day, her DIY attitude and bootstrapping nature align closely with the national psyche of innovation and resourcefulness that New Zealanders are well-known for — and indeed the attitude of Sir Edmund Hillary, the Everest-climbing humble hero after whom the Edmund Hillary Fellowship (EHF) is named.

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Sonya brings to the EHF community experience in communication, storytelling, community-building and rallying supporters around shared values and narratives of social change. Welcoming the opportunity to learn from entrepreneurs with widespread experience commercialising bold ideas, she is hoping to expand the reach and scope of her work, developing international arms of The Body Is Not An Apology that translate cultural boundaries, while focusing on how culture and geography impact the understanding and adoption of a radical-self love framework.

“It is a gift to be part of a cohort examining how social justice, ecology, climate, and innovation work together to make a just, equitable, sustainable and compassionate world. In 3 years’ time, I hope to be part of a global tapestry of high impact change-makers.”
- Sonya Renee Taylor
Saami Bloom