I look over at my daughter running around the apartment in her pyjamas. She touches her tummy and giggles then runs to the mirror and exclaims, “Pretty!” She’s two, carefree, and has no issues with her body. I can look at my daughter and see her as perfect just the way she is, with her pinchable cheeks and thighs.
If someone told an adult they had pinchable cheeks or thighs, he or she would likely be offended. My hope is that my daughter’s mindset stays body positive. Given the society we live in which is filled with Photoshop, plastic surgery, and daily selfies, I have my concerns not only for my daughter, but for all youth.
Media certainly plays a role in manipulating the minds of young men and women. I am thankful I grew up in an age before social media and airbrushing, but sadly, I was still affected with negative body image. My mother wasn’t the healthiest of role models and did not display unconditional love for her body. I heard daily complaints about “too much flesh” and “if only I were thinner.” Our fridge had a magnet stating “You can never be too rich or too thin.” Part of me thought her behavior was normal since this was how I grew up, but there was a small part of me that thought things should be different. I just didn’t know how.
A scale was placed at the center of the room every Friday and our weight was called out among our peers.
My mother wasn’t the only influence regarding my body image. Ballet was a huge part of my childhood and I started dancing professionally at age 11. While I was never told I was fat, I was surrounded by a culture that exalted thinness. We were encouraged to eat sugar-free, fat free frozen yogurt for lunch. A scale was placed at the center of the room every Friday and our weight was called out among our peers. All the girls prayed they would fit into the smallest tutu for our upcoming performance. It was ingrained in my head that the smaller you are, the easier it would be for a man to lift you during a pas de deux.
Couple all this with being surrounded by mirrors while wearing a leotard, it is not surprising that most dancers struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their career. I went to extremes to maintain the “ideal ballerina body” and this mindset stuck with me for years even after I stopped dancing.
It was not until I became pregnant with my daughter that I truly understood the power and beauty of the human body. Carrying a baby, I realized that my body is meant to be loved and taken care of. Hours at the gym or restricting food intake were completely off limits when I had another life to care for. I began appreciating my growing body because I was doing something bigger than I thought possible.
Occasionally, I’d get sidetracked. Comments from friends and strangers ranging from “You’re so small, are you eating?” to “Are you sure you’re not having twins?” filled my days. I discovered that a pregnant women’s body is often a time of no boundaries for family, friends, and even strangers, and realized that I had to set the boundaries.
When asked how much weight I had gained I’d respond, “I’m not comfortable answering that, but the baby is doing great.” When a hand went in to touch my belly I’d guard my stomach and say, “Please don’t touch without asking.” Most people mean well and pregnancy just makes people curious, but that doesn’t mean I can’t express my feelings.
Judaism prohibits injuring one’s own body. Our body is a gift entrusted to us from God and we need to take care of it.
After I had my daughter, I thought I’d be tempted to lose all the baby weight as fast as possible. I’m not immune to magazines stating this supermodel lost her baby weight in two weeks or this celebrity only gained X amount of pounds during her pregnancy. I was also asked quite often how I planned to lose the baby weight. Honestly, I had no clue. I knew restricting my diet was not an option for me. I planned on nursing and having more children so that meant I needed to stay as healthy as possible. What ended up happening for me was something I could not have imagined years ago when I was struggling with body image issues.
When I sat down to think about the miracle my body was capable of, I recalled a lecture my Rabbi had given on Judaism and the body. He shared the Torah principle that it is forbidden to injure one’s own body (Talmud, Baba Kamma 91b) and how we should view our body as a gift entrusted to us from God. My Rabbi emphasized that we need to nurture and take care of our body. I thought about my past issues of over-exercising and severe diet restriction and realized just how injurious these behaviors were to myself. Since I was following the tenants of Judaism such as observing Shabbat and keeping kosher, shouldn’t I follow this principle as well?
I also found acceptance and self-love with the help of my daughter. My love for her is so huge that any issues with my body fell by the wayside. I didn’t have the impulse to head to the gym every day because I wanted to be with her. Instead, I’d take her for occasional walks in the park. I didn’t analyze my changed body because I was so proud of it for creating another life. I also kept thinking about what kind of mother I wanted to be…happy, joyous and free. Now, when I tell my daughter she’s perfect just the way she is, I believe it for myself too.