“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” read a magnet for sale at one of the local Crown Heights Judaica shops. My heart dropped, and all of a sudden, I had this knot in my stomach. Since when did a Judaica shop—a place which is supposed to carry kedushah and things which brighten our lives and our homes with spirituality—get the nerve to carry something that has to do with the way someone looks? What part of that magnet would bring kedushah into someone’s home or help someone in his/her avodas Hashem?
This incident took place over four years ago, but it still sticks out in my mind to this day. Clearly, it left a heavy mark on my memory from how it made me feel.
I want to tell you a story:
There once was a young girl, right at the tender age of bas mitzvah. She was in the secular world and had just started middle school. This girl had never been particularly thin, nor had she ever felt truly confident, but her mother always taught her that “If you’re beautiful inside, you’re beautiful outside”. But at 12 years old, she was learning—learning the importance of appearance and how others saw her, and she discovered from her peers that if she starved herself, she could become thin. It was an easy solution to an ongoing struggle. That young girl starved herself until her parents realized what was going on and established that this was why her health had deteriorated so much. The girl received extensive treatment, and it took years for her to truly return to normal, but, by the grace of G-d, she eventually did.
I’m that young girl.
And this was only an abridged version of my story.
We are a nation of noshers; it’s in our DNA. Food is our love language, and we’re taught to embrace that from a young age.
It took years, and a long journey, from that point to come to a place where I felt truly beautiful in my skin. That feeling of beauty and confidence began in New York, when I was in seminary and becoming the best version of myself. It began when I fully embraced tznius and the idea of “bas Melech penima”.
So imagine the pain and shock I felt when it seemed as though the reality was uncovered. I saw things for what they were—a lot of contradictions.
We are so blessed to be Jewish. And we are so blessed that our religion enables us to rejoice in so many things. When I think about two words to describe my view of frumkeit, I think: food and family. We are so fortunate that we’re a part of a religion which tells us that once a week we need to shut down and remove ourselves from everyday life. We spend that day in prayer, with our family, or with people who feel like family, enjoying amazing food that has been lovingly prepared or purchased. Not only is there one big seudah, there are two, and each one has 3-4, and sometimes even 5, courses of food! It’s Thanksgiving on the weekly! And we can’t forget about our beloved Yamim Tovim, and the plethora of food and family which come with them, nor can we forget all the beautiful and delicious simchos we get to attend.
We are a nation of noshers; it’s in our DNA. Food is our love language, and we’re taught to embrace that from a young age. Kids spend time in the kitchen, learning how to make challah, kugel, cholent, latkes— the important foods which unite us all. You’ll be told, “Calories don’t count on Shabbos/Yontif” and to eat to your heart’s content. L’kavod Shabbos Kodesh! Truly, there’s always a good reason for food.
This all works out well…up to the point when the festivities are over. It then comes to a screeching halt, with shadchanim eyeing you up and down, and you are turned down for being a little “too curvy”. So you get into the mentality of needing to look a certain way to fit into the “norm”, or you start feeling self-conscious of what you’re eating when you’re by someone’s Shabbos table. The final straw of it all is going to buy a sefer, and instead, you end up finding a magnet which makes you walk out of the store with an uneasy and defeated feeling.
What are we supposed to do about this? Clearly, it’s not solely the Judaica store’s fault, nor is it the fault of frum culture alone—it’s larger than that. Secular society’s standards have seeped into our world—as they usually do—and somehow this Kate Moss quote has also.
We try so hard to guard ourselves from other parts of the secular world, and to make sure they don’t take up residence in our lives, so why not protect ourselves from this as well? With so many other things which we try to prevent from entering our communities, shouldn’t we make sure that toxic diet culture and its damaging quotes aren’t able to stake claim in our world either?
Now is our time to say enough is enough. Now is our time to watch how we talk about ourselves and how we allow our friends/family/children to talk about themselves and others, and to work to create a healthy love surrounding appearances and food. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too—there’s nothing wrong with that. Allowing yourself to be healthy and enjoy the delectable parts of life (in moderation) are phenomenal things.
With so many other things which we try to prevent from entering our communities, shouldn’t we make sure that toxic diet culture and its damaging quotes aren’t able to stake claim in our world either?
Healthy doesn’t have a dress size; healthy is a lifestyle and a mentality. The moment we nourish our bodies and minds, our souls will soar. In that case, everything tastes as wonderful as being healthy feels.