My Journey to Radicalizing Self-Love + My Favorite Self-Help and Black Feminist Books

Evan Lewis

 

     In the Spring of 2018, I dropped out of college. Untreated depression, anxiety, ADD, and a lack of helpful infrastructure to address these issues made it impossible to keep up academically. I blamed myself and fell into unimaginable lows throughout my time in school. Given my college’s ill-treatment of me in the past, I knew I would be asked to leave permanently, and instead withdrew from the institution myself to preserve my dignity and student record. Up until that point, my flirtations with the adult experience were brief: snippets of grown-up life through summers interning and living on my own. But now, as I left life as a student behind me and moved back home to Los Angeles, I found myself being drop-kicked into full-fledged adulthood.

     With this, came a blank slate. I’d barely closed the door on adolescence, but the hard questions were already knocking. What did I want to experience in life? What were my dreams? How would I go about actualizing them? And more pressingly...how on Earth was I going to afford all of this? It became clear that my way of thinking was not compatible with the dreams I had. I wanted a life of freedom, financial abundance, stability, joy, and fulfillment, but still thought of the world in a negative, cynical way and lacked faith in what I was capable of experiencing. A mental makeover was long overdue. I committed myself to letting go of beliefs that no longer served me and releasing ways of thinking that were harmful. Instead of thinking the world was a horrible place, I replaced these kinds of ideologies with ones that were life-affirming and that supported my mission. I imagined living in a benevolent, abundant, loving world full of unlimited potential, well-wishes, and support.

     I chose to maintain that in my reality, good things were possible and affirm that I was deserving of them. I created lists of what I loved about myself until my talents and abilities rolled off my tongue naturally. I wrote in my gratitude journal and noticed small things to like about my life, which turned into big things to love about my life, which turned into big things to love about myself. I became more aware of my thinking, interrupting negative thought patterns when I could catch them and offering more loving, high-vibrational, or at the very least neutral alternatives. I watered my new beliefs about my world, and from them grew belief in myself.

     Within a year, I signed my first one-year lease on what was my dream apartment at the time, began my first official job in my industry as a post-production assistant for a Netflix show, and made more money than I ever had previously, enough for me to save up and pursue my dreams of traveling. It felt like my life was finally beginning and I witnessed things that I had once doubted were even possible, that had previously seemed too good to happen to me, come to fruition before my eyes.

     But my knowledge about self-love was still missing an essential piece: my blackness. Through reading work by Black women such as Bell Hooks’ Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self Recovery and Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not An Apology, my understanding of self-love was radicalized and changed fundamentally. A desire to get more of what I wanted out of life is what initiated my self-love journey. But as these authors decolonized self-love for me, I began to understand its existence beyond the limitations of individualism. I felt seen, affirmed, and held by their words and teachings which, unlike most self-help books, acknowledged the various systems of oppression at play and how these systems often cause inner warfare for people of marginalized identities. It felt like coming home, and at times as if the words on the page had been plucked from my own thoughts and experiences. I found out that as a Black queer woman, self-love is an act of political resistance. When you choose to love yourself, whole-heartedly in a society that attacks your identities and upholds capitalism, patriarchy, racism, anti-blackness, fatphobia, homophobia, and transphobia, you are choosing to disrupt, dismantle, and rebel against these systems. It’s incredibly badass. I began to see self-love as a tool for black liberation, and consequently for the liberation of all oppressed peoples.

     I realized that holding harsh judgments against my own body, whether about its size, skin color, hair texture, or other qualities, had further implications: it meant believing in a hierarchy of bodies in which some are better than others, which ultimately upholds these judgments and criteria for other women as well. While being critical of myself is one thing I could maybe let slide, I couldn’t perpetuate systems of oppression for my kin who I only felt admiration and love for. Especially not when as a thinner person, I carried privilege in these structures of power. Again, if I really wanted to dismantle these systems, I had to start within, with myself, with my beliefs. Realizing the often capitalist and/or anti-black origins of these spiteful body standards also helped me detach from them (see Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings.) I learned how industries profit off of our insecurities, and that many of these insecurities are actually manufactured by corporations who create new beauty standards to sell products. For example, body hair on women was the norm, and razors were only used for men's facial hair up until 1915 when razor company Gillette decided they wanted to make more money. They created the first razor for women and launched marketing campaigns that encouraged women to feel shameful about their body hair, pushing the idea that it was unhygienic and masculine. It dawned on me that most of the shameful ideas I held about my body were not my own, and thus can be unlearned, allowing me to return to the natural state of self-love I entered this world in.

     I felt overwhelmingly empowered by all of this information provided to me through the literature of Black women. It can sometimes feel like so much of the violence that occurs against Black people, especially queer Black people, is out of my control. But self-love will always be one thing I have complete autonomy over. We have the power to choose our own beliefs and values, to be our own standards, to do the work of unlearning, to see perfection in ourselves. I thank every Black woman and Black femme who has done the work before me and given me the tools to feel better, who have made this work feel as though we are all in one big room comforting each other and crying it out. I thank all of the Black women and femmes doing their best to show up for themselves today. While I don’t currently see self-love as a final destination, but more of an ever-evolving journey, I know we will all look back on our paths and see the wounds that once felt open, see the pain that once felt never-ending, see the internal battles that once felt all-encompassing and instead only feel healed, feel lighter, feel at peace, feel better.

My Favorite Intro to Self-Help Books:

- You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero

- You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay

- Creating Money by Duane Packer and Sanaya Roman

- Whatever Arises Love That by Matt Kahn

My Favorite Healing Black Womanist/Feminist Literature:

- Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery by Bell Hooks

- The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor

- The Womanist Reader by Layli Phillips


About the author
Evan Lewis

Evan Lewis is a writer who is passionate about social justice in all of its forms.

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