I’m 13 years old and I’m really skinny. I weigh 70 pounds and I’m 5”1’. Ever since I was a small child I've always been bullied about my thin figure. People call me “skinny,” “flat,” even “A STICK.” I feel very depressed because I’m too thin. What should I do?
Okay, women of the world, this one’s for you! Because how many hundreds of times have we thought, “If only I were thinner, then I’d be happy”?
I love this question because it give lie to the crazy idea that thinner means better, thinner means happier, thinner means “I am a better person than I was when I was 10 or 20 or 50 pounds heavier.” The Absolute Truth is that how your body looks has Absolutely Nothing to do with your worth as a person. You are valuable, you are important, you are wonderful, no matter how your body looks.
Last week, I went to speak at a residence for the elderly. My topic was “The Power of Women,” and included in the female audience was one lone man.
I asked him: “What brings you to a lecture about the power of women? And, while I’m at it, may I ask what keeps you so incredibly vibrant?”
“I seem vibrant to you? I feel vibrant! Can you believe I’m 93?”
“Ninety-three! You don’t look a day over 80! What keeps you so strong, spry, and full of life?”
His reply: “I stay young and strong because of ‘Yes, dear.’ On our wedding day, the rabbi said, ‘Do you take this woman to be your wife?’ I said ‘I do. Yes, dear,’ and I’ve been saying ‘Yes, dear,’ ever since!”
What does the 93-year-old vivacious man’s answer have to do with your body? Everything. He garners his strength from willingly giving, with pleasure, to the person he loves most. We draw our life source from being gracious and giving and forgoing towards the people around us. If we want to be fully alive and truly, deeply happy, then give with pleasure and give generously of our graciousness to those around us.
To fully and properly love those around us, we have to first love ourselves.
But there’s a catch. To give properly to those around us, we have to give the way the Torah directs, and that is: “Love your friend as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). In other words, to fully and properly love those around us, we have to first love ourselves. So you’re skinny! So you’re fat! So what? Love yourself! Lavish love on yourself so you can know how to lavish love and caring onto others.
My 93-year-old friend lives deeply and actively because he “Yes dear”-ed his wife for years and years. We have to “Yes dear” ourselves. That means accepting ourselves as we are, loving ourselves as we are, reveling in what we are at this moment.
If there are aspects of our “self” we want to change, that desire to change ourselves must come from a place of first accepting and loving ourselves, with our limitations, as we are now. Only after we’ve accepted ourselves as we are and learned to love ourselves as we are can we then step back and honestly assess, “Is there something I should change?”
Imagine if you had a friend, and instead of loving and accepting that friend, you were always telling him how he could be better, how he wasn’t good enough the way he is. How long do you think that friendship would last? But if you really loved your friend, and he felt that love, then you could, eventually, say, “You know, maybe you want to be a little less X?” or, “I was thinking, maybe you want to be a little more Y?” Unless that friend really, truly, and deeply knows you care about him and love him, your attempts to change him are just unkind daggers.
Why should we treat ourselves any worse than we would treat a good friend? The Torah tells us that the way we learn how to be a good friend is to treat ourselves well first. You first have to help yourself love yourself.
I’m sorry that people make fun of you. They’re certainly not “Yes dear”-ing you. In which case, you’ve got to be even kinder to yourself to make up for their unkindness. Look at yourself in the mirror every day and practice trying to objectively love what you see. Try to drown out those bullies’ voices with the power of your own voice proclaiming, “I love ME!” Then use that self-love to spread kindness and love to others. Learning to love yourself, learning to love others: what a way to combat all the unkindness thrown your way!
Some Practical Suggestions
I have a few practical suggestions for you. First of all, do things in your life that you love to do. Take the time to figure out what makes you feel passionate and excited to be alive, then take the time to do those things.
Take yourself to a store and try on many different kinds of clothing, with varied material and varied cuts. See which styles and fabrics and colors make you feel beautiful, then just stop and enjoy the sight of yourself looking fabulous. Look at yourself from every angle and savor the image of beautiful you. You don’t even have to buy the clothing —just notice yourself looking lovely right there in the dressing room.
Also remind yourself (you can even say it to yourself out loud) that you don’t have to look like anyone else; you can be the one to start a new trend with exactly how you look.
Another fantastic way to become comfortable with your body is to use your body as an artistic tool. Put on music and dance in front of a mirror. Or enroll in dance, gymnastics, or yoga classes. By the way, in terms of taking care of yourself, did you know that being thinner is actually better for your body? Many medical studies done over the last 40 years have shown that people with lower BMI’s (body mass index) live longer, healthier lives.
I propose we create the “Yes Dear” Club where we “Yes dear” ourselves and everyone around us. What a wonderful world that would be.
When I was leaving the residence after my lecture, I said to my new friend, “Take care!”
“Oh, I will,” he replied. “I have to. I’m getting older!”
My wise old friend, we are all getting older. Let’s take care of ourselves and those around us now.