This gorgeous walking vessel

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Photo by Sarah Barlow

René Goddess Johnson embraces a full-body kind of self-love

“I get questions regularly from strangers and friends alike about my shape, my size, my muscles, my weight, my eating habits, my dance background and more,” says René Goddess Johnson.

A trim and fit dancer, sometimes the questions turn to criticism when women tell her she’s too thin. Rather than snap back or shy away, Johnson sees it as an opportunity to create conversation. One way she does this is by posting body positive videos on social media, like the 30-day squat challenge she led in June on Facebook, aiming to get more people moving their bodies and building body confidence.

“These videos are my version of not feeling shame for choosing to be a physically fit individual,” says Johnson.

As the creative artistic director for the Theater Ensemble of Color and a coordinator of multicultural affairs, education and events in the greater Portland arts scene, Johnson, 32, splits her time between the Celebration Barn in South Paris and living in Portland. While the body confidence movement in pop culture today is focused on women of size, she emphasizes women of all shapes struggle with embracing their bodies.

“Learning to combat that terrible message of consumerism is difficult but not impossible,” she says. “Personal responsibility for me starts with fully acknowledging and accepting my body, every day.”

Through college, Johnson loved her body, from her curves to her flesh. She didn’t doubt its perfection, but after an emotionally abusive relationship, that all changed. In her early 20s, suffering from body dysmorphia, Johnson developed an eating disorder. Eighteen months of therapy helped her regain a fraction of her innate confidence.

“I have worked extra hard (over the past 11 years) to love this gorgeous walking vessel,” she says. “Being a physical performer has brought me back to that full body kind of self-love I most enjoy.”

The response and support Johnson has received since opening up on social media about her own body, regaining the lost confidence and encouraging others to do the same, surprised her.

“I was not sure what to expect,” says Johnson. “With all the videos posted already nearing or passing 100 views, it’s clear there is an interest.”

Johnson plans to continue posting videos with new challenges for her followers to discover new parts of their body to honor and embrace. She hopes to inspire others to be honest with themselves and how they feel about their bodies, and to find the root of those feelings.

“Talk about it, sing about it, cry about it, rejoice about it. Manifest those feelings into pure action. Shame, pride and lies won’t help you feel better about yourself, only consistent hard work will.

“Don’t do it alone,” she adds. “Find a community you want to be consistent with. My body confidence story is ever evolving and a journey I imagine that will never end. A lifetime to care for this body is a major responsibility.”

Emma Bouthillette, a Biddeford native, is the author of “A Brief History of Biddeford.” She loves a good book and walking the beach with her corgi. www.emmabouthillette.com

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