A: Have I mentioned that I love book recommendation questions? I do. I read a lot; it’s the second-best fuel for my own writing. (The very best fuel is people’s questions!)
Anyway, before we start, let me explain for people new to the concept what makes “radical” books on self-help, self-love, and self-acceptance.
Most self-help writing is entirely focused on the individual and what they can do to love themselves better or otherwise improve themselves. This nearly always focuses on either how the individual can do more to conform to the culturally constructed aspirational ideal (all weight loss books fall into this category, and so do all “get rich” books and all “manifest it!” books).
Radical self-help writing locates the individual reader within a system of white supremacist, cis-het-patriarchal, rabidly exploitative late capitalism. It doesn’t just open the door to other possibilities, it knocks down the wall and reveals the man behind the curtain. It explains why you want to lose weight and why that goal is probably detrimental to you but beneficial to a system that profits from your self-hatred and your ongoing body policing of yourself and others.
It also explains how to transform how you live within this broken, sickening system in a way that protects you and makes the world safer for the next generation.
For example, in our book Burnout, my sister and I included a chapter about the patriarchy, to explain how and why women have an extra level of stressors in the form of sexual violence and gaslighting. We’re not saying men don’t have it rough, but in a culture where women are routinely told they have a moral duty to be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others, women are in a particular position of risk when it comes to being able to meet their basic bodily needs. Nearly all “stress books” or “self-help books” leave this out, because they prefer to focus on factors the reader has a lot of control over, like their attitude. We decided it was necessary to make it absolutely explicit that we experience a lot of stressors over which we have no control, which explains why life feels so extremely exhausting and overwhelming sometimes and why we all know what we’re supposed to be doing to care for ourselves and yet so often it feels almost impossible to do those things.
(Links are to my local bookshop, Book Moon Books. I don't get a commission on these, but they do stock signed copies of my books. They ship!)
The mother of all radical self-love is really anything by Audre Lorde; maybe start with The Cancer Journals.
For a dreamscape point of view on the political necessity of self-love, pleasure, and the erotic, try anything by adrienne maree brown, but especially Pleasure Activism, an anthology on the centrality of pleasure in revolutionary transformation of the individual, of communities, and of the larger culture.
For the scienciest yet also deeply inclusive and social justice focused, anything by Lindo Bacon, but especially Radical Belonging. More than any other book on this list, Bacon integrates the science with a social justice lens, so that we can understand why we genuinely, seriously, thoroughly, not only can but must release our judgments of our bodies and others’ and work for the body safety and freedom of the people around us, for our own sakes and for the sake of the future.
Nutrition/health/anti-diet books are the place that have come the farthest in this domain. Sciencey and specifically anti-weight loss is ANTI-Diet by Christy Harrison and (WONDERFULLY SCIENCE-Y) Why Diets Make Us Fat by Sandra Aamodt. (Forgive the title on that one—authors don’t always get to choose.)
I wouldn’t necessarily classify the next book as “self-help,” but it does offer insight into emotional experience and relationships. I Hope We Choose Love: a trans girls notes from the end of the world by Kai Cheng Thom is a delicious antidote to the grotesque dynamics of social media.
I want to mention two books that aren’t out yet, so that you can look for them. Tricia Hersey, the Nap Bishop herself, is writing Rest Is Resistance, “a manifesto establishing rest as a spiritual, political, and liberation practice to dismantle ‘grind culture,’ capitalism, and white supremacy,” and We Will Rest, a “meditative devotional gift book.” I don’t know when they will be out, but I will be buying them both by the case and giving them to everyone I know. The Nap Bishop’s work has had as much influence on me as the dual control, affective neuroscience, and Health at Every Size.
I’ll mention just one white dude, because his work has been so impactful for me and is radical in a different way. No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz is about his therapeutic modality called “Internal Family Systems” or IFS. What I love about it is that it lets you greet, with kindness and compassion, even the most difficult parts of your own psyche, and help them get their needs met so that they can feel attended to and be happier, which means you in turns are happier.
A central theme that ties No Bad Parts to these other works is imagination. A better world is wildly different from the one we live in now, and it takes people like us daring to imagine, daydream, and write about what is possible in the far-away world of justice. The more time we spend thinking not just about how bad shit is right now but how good it could be, how good it should be, the more sensitive we will become to the injustices around us, and thus the harder we will fight for the world we know we deserve.
And it’s that “we know we deserve” part that makes it RADICAL SELF-LOVE. The world as it is now has a vested interest in persuading you that you don’t deserve a world that treats you with tenderness. Each of us can say, “No, actually, I do deserve that, no matter what the world says.”
Stay safe and see you next time.