Letting myself go; becoming soft, becoming kind

Bodhi on my lap

In the home that I grew up in, gaining weight was pretty much the worst thing that you could do to yourself. It was implied that if you gained weight, you would lose out on life, love, and happiness. How you looked was everything, and “whipping yourself into shape” was the order of the day. This was thinly veiled behind the pretense of, “It isn’t healthy to gain weight.” But really, how healthy was drinking diet soda, smoking cigarettes, eating the stash of my mother’s appetite suppressants (named, believe it or not, AIDS), and fearing weight gain, with every bite that I ate?!

For years I had a such an intense fear of gaining weight that I weighted myself twice a day. I felt elated if I had lost, and discouraged if I had gained. My emotions went up and down according to the little plastic box that I stepped onto. In 1986, I gave my bathroom scale away, even though I was almost certain that I would gain weight uncontrollably if I wasn’t monitoring it every second. I knew that I could not keep focusing on such a narrow version of life, and develop into the person that I wanted to be, and giving away my scale was the first step “in”.

This has been brought home to me lately by witnessing the distress of someone close to me, now well into his late 80’s. His body is breaking down and changing. He always took such immense pride in the way that he looked, how active he was, how he was able to do all of the things (and even wear some of the same size clothes) that he did in his 20’s. He focused so much on staying the same, not changing, on maintaining, that he didn’t go inside, and really get to know himself, and now he feels betrayed by his body and is angry. I have suggested that he might want to take it easy on himself, start to realize that he is much more than his body, rest more, relax into his life. He dismisses this instantly.

Why would we want to look like we did in our 20’s or 30’s? Why would we want to be doing exactly the same things? This would mean that we live in a world where life “peaks” at 30 and goes downhill from there. Life is meant to be an ever expanding experience. To be a whole person, to live this life fully, we need to change and grow, find out who we really are inside, regardless of what is happening to our ” shells”.

Lately I’ve been thinking, “You are letting yourself go Mary” and it is true. I am letting go of the idea that I need to look younger, and embracing the idea of being kinder. Having a kinder mind. Seeing myself with wonderful new eyes. I think that I’ve gained weight, I am softer everywhere, and there is definitely more of me around the middle. For a few days last fall, I thought about joining a gym to do exercises that would flatten and firm my body. I decided against it.

In this second half of my life here on earth, I am going to focus on loving myself, and my body, not mercilessly whipping it “into shape.” I am going to listen to my inner voice more, with a kinder ear; sleep when I hear that sweet call, take longer baths, get massages, eat good food, read uplifting words, think happier thoughts, walk, breath, smile at myself…and others.

WILD GEESE, by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

49 thoughts on “Letting myself go; becoming soft, becoming kind”

  1. Oh Mary,

    What a stunning message you are sending us today. Self acceptance! Something most of us have been pretty well trained not to even consider, and that has caused untold misery in our lives. Self acceptance — difficult to internalize but leading to far fuller, richer experiences for us no matter how old we are. The best can really be yet to come.

    Thank you immensely for this powerful post to begin my week!

    Love from Fran

    1. PS I love Mary’s poem!
      Bodhi is beautiful!
      And yes, I do remember AIDS. Not only did they NOT suppress my appetite, I was inclined to eat an entire box of any flavor at one sitting.
      From Fran again

      1. My thoughts exactly, Fran! I would try to stay with two about a half-hour before a meal, but they tasted so good, I would scarf down at least five. And if they were still on the market, I’d still be scarfing them!

  2. This one is a keeper, Mary. I, too, am growing older; I exercise regularly, I don’t look my age and I have a few extra pounds around my mid-section that weren’t there ten years ago. I dress differently, more comfortable loose clothing. I sometimes wonder if I’ll end up like Elizabeth Taylor, swathed in layers of chiffon hiding rolls of fat. But I know too that my body is simply the vehicle by which I’ve had the means to drive through life. In the end, as the vehicle wears out, all that is left is what is inside. Our spirit. It’s who we are. More and more I depend upon strengthening this inner part of my life rather than the outside. I see so much commercial and hype on human’s physical appearance and I think to myself, it’s financial opportunism on the part of business and the receipients hormones gone rampant. It is very hollow.

    SandyP in Canada

  3. I like the notion of softening–a blurring a bit at our edges.

    After all it isn’t about how we look but how we are. And in these middle years we are kinder aren’t we? I find myself wishing people well more and being more generous in my thoughts toward them and in turn to myself as well.

    Lovely post. Thanks


  4. Thank you Mary, I have prined this one and I will read it often. I have lost weight over the last few days because of a miserable intestinal virus that is going around. I can’t wait to start eating ice cream again and enjoying my softenening curves.

  5. Oh Mary, very powerful words today! I know this is something most of us struggle with, the softening of our physical bodies as we age. The word “soft” is desirable in so many ways, pillows, blankets, marshmallows,( seriously,who wants hard marshmallows!) I want it to apply to me too, to be gentle with myself and look more inward. Thank you for reminding us, it’s what’s inside that counts… I love Mary Oliver and this poem is one of my favorites.

  6. yup, this was right on target, I needed this now, just when I am thinking of getting on the scale, a good reminder and the poem is perfect. Instead of thinking about being lonely I need to think about all the lovely world around me, mine to enjoy. So many possibilities.

  7. Love, love, love this post!! It was the same in my house regarding weight and as a result I have struggled all my life with it. When I turned 50 last November I decided that I was no longer going to color my hair. I’m tired of spending the money and the time and the aggravation doing so. I still have times when I look in the mirror and have second thoughts but they are becoming fewer. I think of my great grandmother and realize that she never colored her hair and she was a beautiful woman (inside and out). I also like Terri Brown’s description of “soft”. I’m sure my husband and son like cuddling up to a soft woman/mom rather than one who has “rock hard” abs.

  8. In my 70s I feel comfortable with my body and my elder status. Acceptance is the driving force that lets us be whoever we are both inside and outside of our body/mind. Social protocols of our society need to be laughed at by each and everyone of us — fly free — barbara

  9. Thank you…
    There needs to be so much more flexibility in the world, and it starts with accepting ourselves.

  10. Your post brought tears to my eyes and brought some emotions to the surface. I wrote about how I had a battle with weight when I was younger (in my 20’s and 30’s) in my new book out next year… and how I judged my whole day and life on a number on the scale. And like you, Mary, finally learned to be kinder to myself. And I did all this because ONE guy told me how pretty I’d be if I was just a little thinner- I was by no means overweight– but it sent me in a tailspin.
    But today, I am much kinder to myself. I don’t have a scale. Can’t remember the last time I weighed myself. I do workout, but it is more for my peace of mind– I love yoga and pilates– and walking my dogs. It balances my mind, body and spirit.
    I love your new second life thoughts and I’m going to take my cue from you. Thank you, Mary.
    PS: I just finished reading “Dying to be Me” by Anita Moorjani. A woman who had stage 4 cancer, had a near death experience, and lived to tell about that journey. It is a must read- I think, especially for women who seem to not realize their own magnificient selves– and Anita says loving ourselves is why we are here and the answer to living a fulfilling life. I found the book quite profound.

  11. Dear Mary, you couldn’t have offered us all a more perfect Valentine card. It brims with love from your overflowing heart, and urges us, too, to embrace ourselves with softness and acceptance. Just this past Saturday, I shuffled my Doreen Virtue Angel Cards and picked one – hadn’t done so in awhile, and what surfaced? Self Acceptance – here is what Doreen Virtue has to say:

    Self-Acceptance – Card Meaning: You are a perfect child of God, and every part of you is wonderful. Your angels guide you to let go of negative self-judgments and to enjoy being you!

    “You are much too hard on yourself,” your angels say to you through this card. Although you enjoy having high standards, it’s important to view yourself through loving eyes. Berating yourself only makes your spirit sink. Self-improvement comes from a positive mind-set.
    See yourself through your angels’ eyes, and you will see someone who is a perfect and holy child of God. Although you have made mistakes in the past, there is nothing that you could have ever said, thought, or done that would change God’s love for you. The angels see past your surface mistakes; they see the beating heart of God’s love within you. They love you unconditionally, and they ask you to love yourself in the same way!

    So, Happy Valentine’s Day to all the dear hearts who gather here. Be your own best friend first, so that your love will shine from your heart and radiate in sweet soft circles of joy to all those around you. And, I am guessing Mary is saying also, “Go for the chocolate!”

    1. Really needed those thoughts you shared from Doreen. I’m going to print them out and use them to go meditate on. Thanks for thinking of us all.

      1. You’re welcome sweet Mary! Have you seen the cards? They are so pretty – when I pick one, I remove it from the deck and keep it on my desk, or somewhere special where I will see it all day. Each card has a beautiful front illustration of an angel, no two alike, – just like us!

  12. Wonderful post, Mary. Thanks for the inspiration, as always ❤ There is so much more to life than focusing on our bodies all the time. You know I love nature, my favorite thing to do is take a walk each day and enjoy the sights and smells of the outdoors. It's good exercise, a time to reflect on my thoughts, and a very spiritual experience for me. I think it's all about changing your focus in life to things that make you happier whether its being kind or spending time in nature or with friends and family. Weight gain is such a battle for most women….and losing weight and trying to be a certain size is such an obsession for many women too… I have witnessed it do a lot of damage to a close friend of mine. And of course, post pregnancy, I have dealt with some negative feelings towards myself as well.

    You are such a kind and wonderful person and I hope you see how much you inspire everyone who reads this, and also those who have ever had the privilege of spending time with you. Even though I dont always have time to comment on your blogs, I really enjoy reading them. xoxo

  13. Dear daughters, hear our message
    We come in plural sizes
    Do not believe the media
    And all that it despises.

    Be gone, oh drill sergeant!
    Take with you those commands
    What shape? Whose shape?
    And all that it demands.

    Those curves caress us gently
    They make us so unique
    Edges blurred in loving softness
    A welcome we all can seek.

    1. That is perfectly lovely Cheryl! We applaud you, take a bow!
      “edges blurred in loving softness”, beautiful. .

    1. Oh, how I know that, Suzannne! For years I encouraged my two beautiful and very intelligent girls to follow their own drumbeat; create and sustain their own ideas of self image and inner beauty. But they are never far from peer pressure and Madison Avenue ads—so now I must learn to LET GO and wish them well in a journey we must all make for ourselves. Not at all easy!!!!!!!

  14. AIDS…yes, I remember those too and they helped not at all. From when I was a very small child everyone in my family seemed always to be worrying about their weight. My Grandmother had some sort of glandular malfunction and was a very large lady and because my Mom and aunts all struggled with their weight, I was convinced I should also. Having lived for several years in SE Asia, when I returned to boarding school in England I gorged on all the wonderful candy bars I had missed and could not get enough milk, with all that lovely cream on top that we used to get in those days. Months later, having worn a uniform at school, I discovered, shock, horror, that my clothes no longer fit. In fact I was still growing but I had also gained weight. At that time my life was rather topsy turvy and I suppose it was not surprising that I took control of the one thing I was able to. I stopped eating anything that I believed was “fattening”, which was almost everything and I dropped a ton of weight, very rapidly. Years later I realised that for a period I was actually anorexic but I am not sure the term had been invented back then. Anorexia might well have taken hold but then my life took another drastic side turn which is a whole other story. At age 22 I was diagnosed hypothyroid and all my life I have had poor self image. In 1969 I was denied a job with Pan Am on the basis that I was “over weight”. At 140 lbs, 5’8″ I really don’t think I was, but I was crushed.
    I worry a lot less now but I am still very disciplined in what I eat. I would love to be able to ease up on my exercise routine but my orthopedic surgeon tells me that I must “power through the pain” in order to keep my metallic spine supported. (The TSA told me once that my spine looks like the Eiffel Tower) So I can’t really let up and there are times when I ask myself “is it all really worth this”, but those are the times when I turn to blogs like yours and Jon Katz’ and I bless you for the lift you give me.

  15. Thank you for this brave and beautiful post! I, too, have come to Wild Geese to remind myself that we are here to experience joy, not the pain of ruling ourselves by rules and self-imposed nastiness. I am grateful for your words, and celebrate your living your authentic life. Cheers!

  16. I am working on self-acceptance and being kinder to myself–letting go of so much judgment. Your words, Mary, are perfectly uplifting for me today.

  17. Mary you are so on point with this today. I live in Califoirnia and my parents live in England. They called me yesterday and told me they are coming out to see me in May.I haven’t seen them for 3 years. Mild panic has set in…”I’ll have to loose some weight” was my very first thought! As soon as I see them at the airport my Mum will say to me “Oh, you do look well” this is code for me as “you’ve put on weight”. My sisters and I always joke when we see each other by saying “Oh you do look well”. Mum says it to us all. If we have lost weight she says “Oh you are stick thin”. We can’t win!
    I am going to start exercising more, as “I” feel I need to drop a few pounds (after jumping on the scales at the vet’s office last week and having an unpleasant shock!) it will be better for my health. As soon as you hit 50 everything changes, we have to eat less and move more. Thanks Mary for our daily awakening.

  18. Mary ……..I also pulled up your blog today and thought how apropiate

    THANK YOU …….. my soft belly thanks you as well

    Take Care

  19. Another wonderful post Mary and how right you are. Life is way too short to worry about a few extra pounds! I too am going to exercise more, but just as much as for mental well being as weight, a good long walk followed by a non guilt ridden coffee and muffin!

  20. And TAB in the can. Yikes!

    I was feeling a little overweight when I went to bed the other night and my dream brain gave me a scenario that I was pregnant; I guess we are as young as we feel, yes?? Ha ha ha ha!! (This is a scientific impossibility).

    Oh, the weight of our bodies. I just want to feel good and when I don’t like how I feel I slow down on my eating and when I feel good, I eat what I want and when the company is good and the food is delicious my hand to mouth movement gets a workout. But I do still have that feeling that I don’t want it to get out of hand. I do want to be healthy. I do want to live as long as I can and enjoy what is coming my way. So I do find myself thinking I have to stop eating at times and I am tore between denying myself or letting myself be myself.

    It’s absolutely crazy that this is the subject of your blog today because I had a happy thought today that my life is pretty darn blessed except that I would like to lose those 10 extra pounds that have been with me for way too long and I was thinking that if I could just wrap my head around it being okay that the 10 pounds get a permanent permit than I would, indeed, be living a most privileged life! And then I turned on my computer and there you were!

    Thanks for the enjoyable blog, as always!

  21. An old commercial for Ayds for those of us who are younger and don’t remember or know of this product.

  22. I wish I could paste a picture from Facebook here. It is a picture of a scale but some wise person has written on the scale – “It is just a number” and on the other of the number “really”. This person also used the rest of the scale to include a list – “the number will not tell you: – what a great person you are – how much your friends and family love you – that you are kind, smart, funny and amazing in ways numbers cannot define – that you have the power to choose happiness – your own self-worth”. Thought this was a fabulous way to keep it in perspective no matter where that number may land!

  23. Thanks, Mary. I loved your message today. I know I’ll reread it and remind myself to be nicer and kinder. Some days I find that one extremely challenging. 🙂

  24. Thank You! I can so relate to all that you share. And, I love what you plan to create for yourself on this next half of your life. I am feeling the same way – I want to work out by being outside walking in nature, eating good food, being kinder to myself (and then I can be that way to others) and aging with grace and inner wisdom!

  25. This is my favorite! Thank-you Mary for this post. A great idea that I read from I think Veronica Hallisey is to bless our bodies each day. 🙂

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