One of the hardest parts of life can be learning to love yourself exactly as you are. For popular internet icon and LGBTQ activist Jeffrey Marsh, teaching others self-acceptance has become a lifelong mission.
Marsh was raised as a boy in a fairly conservative, rural setting. Marsh is genderqueer — they do not identify as a man or a woman and prefers to be referred to with the pronouns “they” and “them.” It took years for Marsh to realize and accept that they were genderqueer and much more interested in wearing feminine clothes and performing on stage than becoming a farmer.
Since coming into their own, Marsh, 39, has gained a reputation online for promoting radical self-love through their popular tweets on Twitter and gender-defying, supportive Vine videos. Marsh has over 300 million views on social media, 500,000 fans on their social channels, and is a regular contributor, writer, and on-air host for Snapchat Stories, Facebook Live, O Magazine, Oprah.com, Time.com, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Mashable, and more. And they will soon be seen as the fashion model for their own line of genderfluid clothing.
Marsh’s message and the many pieces of advice that go with it have recently been collected in their new book, How to Be You: Stop Trying to Be Someone Else and Start Living Your Life, making them the first non-binary author with publisher Penguin Random House.
“From the beginning, my message has always been there is nothing wrong with you,” Marsh explained. This is a message that has been widely embraced by Marsh’s thousands of fans, many of whom are young or LGBT, but also include people from all walks of life.
“A lot of people are raised getting these negative messages that they internalize,” Marsh said. “‘I’m too fat.’ ‘I’m too stupid.’ ‘I’m not how I’m supposed to be.’ Then you start to hate that part of yourself and feel like self-hate is the way to get rid of that trait, that if you punish yourself enough it will go away. The fact is, that just doesn’t work.”
Instead, Marsh recommends working to accept oneself without hate. In How to Be You, a combination memoir-workbook-journal, Marsh offers advice and exercises on how to do this, including recognizing one’s heroes and heroines, and realizing how loving and supportive they would be. Marsh also emphasizes that the reader isn’t to blame for the harmful messages they’ve internalized growing up, either from misguided parenting or society at large.
In fact, many adults might feel a little nervous about their kids reading How to Be You. It repeatedly cites parents as one of the most likely causes of internalized self-hate. In this way, Marsh taps into a fear that every parent has at some point: that your parenting will somehow make your child miserable for life.
As any parent knows, proper discipline is very difficult to achieve. If your child is falling behind at school, you certainly don’t want to call them stupid, but how do you address the problem without hurting their self-esteem? What if your child swears, steals, or hurts someone? Is it right to lecture them? The popular thought being: Discipline will make a child feel bad and, subsequently, not repeat the act.
Marsh disagrees. According to them, there aren’t really bad people, just people who make mistakes: “What’s important is for parents to say, ‘You are not a bad person, even though you did a bad thing.’ Then you need to ask the child why they acted that way and show that you appreciate and respect their answers. Then you can share from your personal experience to show them why what they did was wrong.”
Much of Marsh’s advice involves parents building bridges and approaching their kids as equals. “Kids see through the authority act,” Marsh said. “They see the difference between what you tell them to do and the way you lead your own life. They won’t respect what you tell them if they see contradiction.”
At the same time, Marsh’s philosophy doesn’t call for perfection among parents any more than they call for it among children: “I often tell parents that they need to do their own work on whatever problems are bothering them. That can be through therapy, religion, or even just practicing self-love. Kids learn by example and will respect you more if they see you living your live openly and honestly. Then, if you make a mistake, it’s easier to understand because you’re a human, too.”
In fact, for Marsh the fact that so many parents care about being sensitive to the way their kids see the world and how to best guide them is the first step.
“I once got a message from a mother who went grocery shopping with her daughter and the girl’s grandmother,” Marsh says. “When they checked out, they saw that the cashier was transgender. The grandmother pulled the girl out of the store and told her that the cashier was ‘disturbed.’ The mom wanted to know the best way to counter that sort of influence in her daughter’s life, how to teach her to be accepting. I told her the fact that she cared so much already had her past the first hurdle. The next step is to do your research. Remember to always treat identities with respect. You don’t have to be perfect, but be sincere.”
Maybe it’s unsurprising that the other half of Marsh’s self-love philosophy is a love and appreciation for others. It isn’t about being everyone’s best friend, but rather seeing that everyone deserves respect, and that being different or even doing bad things isn’t the same as being a bad person. It’s a notion that’s simple, but also radical for many who have gotten all too used to hating themselves for the flaws they see.
Many people would rather pretend to be someone else in order to fit in and hide from the qualities they hate. Marsh has lived through that pain themselves and reached a place of thorough self-love. For many teens and even adults, Marsh’s book may be a great step toward blooming into the wonderful people they’ve always really been.