Mara Glatzel from Medicinal Marzipan has long been one of my favorite body image bloggers, in part for her worldview and in part for her graceful, inspirational prose. But what strikes me most about Medicinal Marzipan is its honesty: Glatzel shares her vulnerabilities as well as triumphs in the route to wellness (including a recent post that gave me one of my own biggest “aha!” moments in the past several years about my own eating concerns).
I was pleased to learn that Mara has developed a tool for helping others find their own place on the vulnerability-triumph spectrum, with Body Loving Homework, which she describes as “one part Ebook, one part digital anthology, and one part self-study coaching program—designed to help you find clarity around what you deserve out of your life and your daily experiences.” When I sampled a few of the 100 writing prompts in the book, my responses ranged from joy (apparently my answer to “My body remembers” is a hint racy) to discovery (I think of myself as pretty calm, so imagine my surprise when several of my answers to prompts involved the word panic). I asked her to guest post here about incorporating self-acceptance into our daily lives, and the place where self-image and body image intersect.
If you’re anything like me, you know exactly what it feels like to go through the motions: saying yes, piling on the additional work, doing the emotional housekeeping, working out the logistics, and taking everyone else’s needs into account.
You’re probably really good at it too—a skill cultivated and honed over the course of your life.
I used to think that taking care of others was what I was best at, what I was put on the planet to do.
I used to think that just because I was good at it, I was relegated to going through the motions the rest of my life.
This conveniently fit in with other beliefs that I held about my life—feelings of being unworthy, unlovable, unforgivably damaged—because, through taking really good care, I was able to make myself useful in a way that didn’t require me to necessarily stick my neck out.
I was kind.
I made dinner.
I cleaned up communal physical space.
I put down whatever I was working on, attending instead to the emotional crisis at hand.
I do not intend to set up a paradox here, as in: when I hated myself, I took care of everyone else, and when I learned how to love myself for who I was, I only took care of myself.
For me, it wasn’t one or the other. It was in the appearance of a choice in the matter. It was knowing that I was worth loving not only for my caretaking abilities, but also for the rest of me as well.
When I learned how to love myself, truly love myself, and believe in the fact that I had more to offer the world than laundered socks and mended hearts—I was able to believe, also, that I was more than what I had been permitting myself.
When I was single or momentarily attached, I used to joke that I was a “starter wife”—the kind of girl who picks up broken, sad partners, and uses her love to shine them up like a little penny, gently reinforcing their strengths through the repetition and constancy of my adoration.
Until the day that they got so shiny, they wanted to hop into someone else’s pocket.
In these moments, I was left alone, heartbroken, but, when I was truly honest with myself—at least partially to blame. I had avoided infusing myself into these relationships, because I deeply feared that doing so would scare my partner away. I had internalized messages during my youth—messages of being too big, too loud, too passionate. I had been told by my experiences that people stayed around longer if you made your needs as brief and palatable as possible, and then went about your day becoming exactly who they need you to be.
I remember the exact day when I realized that I could, instead, choose to be myself.
I realized that if I was myself, and it didn’t work out, at least I knew ahead of time instead of wishing and praying that my real self wouldn’t pop up unexpectedly and drive someone away.
For me, self-acceptance has been the slow integration of who I was presenting as and who I was inside. It was the process of becoming who I already was. It was putting all of my faith in the idea that if I could permit myself to be myself that I could love that person—even when I was afraid to do so.
However, as will naturally occur when you begin to change one aspect of your life—suddenly, the impact spread, and I was astounded by how pervasive my self-hatred had become.
I found unexpressed sentiment and choked on words in every facet of my life—work, relationship, family. I found that in fact I really hated where we had chosen to put that new bookshelf or that in my heart, I wished we had painted the bathroom blue instead of red. I was surprised, as these feelings weren’t even large, big scary to divulge feelings—I was saying yes and keeping quiet in all aspects of my life.
And, at first, I thought I was doing all of this out of some sort of damaged self-esteem around my body, but, over time, I realized, it wasn’t my body—it was my most basic sense of worth and deserving. It was who I was, deep inside, that was hurting and needed to be freed.
What I thought was about the size of my hips, was actually about the cultivation and maintenance of healthy boundaries within the context of my relationships.
What I thought was about whether or not someone thought I was attractive, was actually about speaking my needs out loud, in the presence of another.
What I thought was about my body—was about how I was living my life.
The human body is a convenient scapegoat.
Contentious by nature, degraded by the media, and a highly personal battleground, our bodies carry more than their fair share of the pain, hurt, and rejection that we experience in the world. For example, it was much easier for me to hate my body than realize that I needed to dramatically upgrade my ability to create and maintain healthy boundaries.
In many ways, hating your body is easy. You’ll never be alone. You will always have others to join you in your self-hatred, commiserating over the size of their thighs or how this was the week that they are going on a diet or he didn’t reject me—he rejected my body. As in, things that you can fix or have control over.
When it is about your body, it is a problem that society tells you you can fix—head to the gym, hop on a diet, indulge in some plastic surgery. Even if you wouldn’t resort to some of those options, they are out there, filling up the social consciousness with feelings of safety and well-being. Whether or not you choose to access them—the option is there.
You can change your body. You can make yourself prettier. You can buy new, sexy clothing.
You know how to do that, and on many levels—it feels safe.
What about when it’s not about your body? What about when it is about your basic ability to connect with other human beings, relax into intimacy, or be both yourself and yourself in the context of a couple?
That feels much less safe.
This is the messy zone, the dark closet that we shove all of our odds and ends in, in order to keep the rest of our house tidy and presentable. The answers here are not cut and dry. They do not apply to everyone. You cannot read about them in the self-help section of your favorite magazine.
They come from learning to listen to the voice inside your body, the small part of yourself that lets you know what you’d most like and what your wildest dreams are.
I had been keeping myself small—occupied by the an overflowing to-do list of laundry and groceries, wrapped up in the melodrama of my own creation, and concerned with the well-being of those around me first, and my own needs—last, always.
It wasn’t that learning to love myself dramatically altered who I was. I haven’t stopped taking care, but I am confident now that I am choosing to take care and that the people who I choose to take care of are worthy of my most profound love and consideration.
Learning to love myself has permitted me the ability to realize that I was worthy of anything that I put my mind or heart to. It was the quiet process of choosing, every day, that who I am is important. That my words matter. That my actions are an extension of my heart, and that they should be respected as such.
That I am worthy of my own love and the love of those around me, and not because I’ve cooked them dinner.
Mara Glatzel is a self–love coach + author of Body Loving Homework: Writing Prompts for Cultivating Self–Love. She works with women who are ready to create the lives they want — and deserve. Her blog, Medicinal Marzipan, has inspired thousands of women to heal their relationships with their bodies, and treat themselves with relentless compassion. Catch up with her on Facebook or Twitter, or join her body–loving mailing list for secret swapping and insider news.