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Debunking the Beauty Myth

Debunking the Beauty Myth

Dealing with someone’s eating disorder made me realize that her struggle was mine as well.


This past summer I resolved to become beautiful. Sunshine heralded the end to all my exercise excuses. It was finally time to take control of my body and form it my will.

Then I met a young girl who had also designated summer as the time to become beautiful, a goal she dutifully pursued until her hands began to shake and her hair began to fall out.

I wasn’t prepared to deal with another’s eating disorder. I’ve watched the documentaries and read the literature. I’ve been trained to look for the signs, and I’ve discussed self-esteem and positive body image with teenage girls nearly as frequently as boys and dating. But entering the picture after a long, silent marathon, the problem that met me with large, solemn eyes and jutting cheekbones was far beyond me to solve.

While tending to her harmful eating habits, I found myself becoming acutely aware of what I was eating. While monitoring her preoccupation with appearance, I found myself looking in the mirror a little too frequently. Calculating a little too fastidiously if my performance that day had been up to par.

I had never completely rejected the beauty myth.

I was disturbed to discover that her struggle was mine as well. I realized that I had never completely rejected the beauty myth – the lie that altering one’s body to fit a certain, preconceived ideal is the key to happiness.

I began to pay attention to the feeling of inadequacy I had allowed trail me from summer to summer. Declining to actively battle the false pattern of thinking, I had accepted a quiet, aching self-dissatisfaction as my constant companion. I didn’t have an eating disorder, but I did detect the disordered thinking within myself that contributes to the environment that engenders eating disorders.

As long as we still buy in to the beauty myth, we can’t expect our daughters (or any young girl for whom we serve as a role model) to choose differently. We can’t teach security and satisfaction if we ourselves don’t possess it.

Our world is selling a constant lack – a lack of perfection, youth and beauty. To fight back, to finally dismantle the beauty mirage that has taken more control of our lives than we care to admit, we must choose to defy the accusation of imperfection. While we view ourselves as guilty – guilty of weighing too much, eating too much, not being beautiful enough – we are at our accuser’s mercy.

It’s time to plead beautiful. It’s time we choose to see ourselves as beautiful, and begin to believe it. It’s time we define beauty on our own terms, and not in the unrealistic, unattainable definitions that lead us on a hapless, fruitless, miserable chase.

A woman’s beauty is defined, not in terms of her looks, but in terms of her actions and her soul. “False is grace and vain is beauty/ A woman who fears God, she should be praised,” we sing every Friday night at the Shabbat table in Aishet Chayil, “Woman of Valor,” a song praising the woman of the home. As King David writes in Psalms, "all the glory of the King’s daughter comes from within” (Psalms 45:14) – not from fulfilling the media’s distorted vision of beauty.

I pledged at the beginning of this summer to become beautiful. At the beginning of this Jewish New Year, I’ve made a new pledge: to wage peace with my body, and not war.

The battle is for my own sake, and for the sake of my future family. And it’s my only way to fight for one struggling, weary young girl.

October 12, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 27

(20) Allen Fuller, November 13, 2013 3:54 PM

You're beautiful the way God made you

I am a healthy red-blooded male, and waifs and skeletons do not attract me. I like a girl that is well-rounded in all areas including personality, spirit and intellect. Physically, I am not attracted to obese girls, but I have been attracted to girls of natural builds ranging from tall and thin to somewhat stockier build.

The most important thing to do for your beauty is to be healthy. Starving yourself is not healthy, thus it is not beautiful. Overeating and obesity are not healthy, thus are not beautiful. Even if your weight is right but you eat junk foods or diet foods that stress your body out, it will diminish your beauty.

Simply take care of your body -- it is a gift from God and a temple of God -- and your natural beauty will shine.

Finally, the inner beauty of personality is even more important, especially if you want to attract someone who cares for more than your body. Cultivate your spirit and your inner person in all areas, and your inner attractiveness will be irresistible.

(19) Spectator, April 12, 2013 1:35 AM

I have watched and learned much from two girls with EDs.

One of them was a very close friend of mine at one point. They both are still what I would consider friends, and are both still suffering from EDs. (and other various issues) EDs are so heartbreaking, this article really spoke to me because I could connect to what the author was expressing. This article summed up what I have been thinking while I've been sitting on the sidelines watching the poor girls struggle. Thanks for a great article!

(18) TMay, October 24, 2012 2:00 AM

Do you love your dog or cat?

Sometimes you buy a line that you have heard for a long time without questioning it such as the importance of beauty. If you think about it, people like Eleanor Roosevelt and Golda Meir were more loved and respected while they did not have model cut-out bodies, than the passing fancy of Hollywood actresses who often appear to have problems of alcohol, drugs, binge eating, broken families, and arrest records, constantly hungry, scared of gaining a few ounces, scared of aging, who are quickly forgotten when a new face appears on the scene. The message on King Solomon's ring "This too shall pass." applies to beauty and if young women learned that, they might make better decisions. Photos are air brushed. The obsession with "thin" regardless of heritage or age is as silly as expecting every dog to be a Greyhound or Whippet, instead of the variety of St Bernards, and Labradors and Great Pyrenees, and Chihuahua and Dachshund. Can you imagine a Great Pyrenees spending its short time on earth wishing it was a Whippet or an Afghan hound, a poodle worrying that it wanted straight hair, a Sharpei worrying about its wrinkles? With cats some are a Maine Coon. or a British short hair and some are Siamese. I had a cat with a fold of skin on its tummy. It turns out that the fold of skin was there because it could run faster than other cats and when it had to run at full speed the fold gave it more stretch than other cats.Plus. have you noticed? The photographers who catch people in their bathing suits, and the writers who are critical, you don't get to see what they look like. The reporters who stick their nose into every aspect of a person's life, don't reveal their own affairs and bad decisions.

Julia, October 17, 2013 3:52 PM

Beautiful analogy

I know this is an old thread, but wanted to thank the writer of this comment - this resonated so profoundly in me, about the dogs. And isn't it amazing that a comment made online would have this sort of lasting impact on another individual a year into the future?

(17) Anonymous, October 22, 2012 5:07 PM

Eating disorders as a disease, not a moral issue

My appearance and body image has been a painful issue for me since I reached puberty. I treat my preoccupation with food with medication, support groups, and nutritional education. When I focused on why I had trouble around food (perfectionism, society, upbringing, lack of will power, low self esteem), I muddied the field of recovery. Loving and accepting oneself is indeed a good thing but it is not enough to reverse a disease. I have never been able to think, love, or self actualize myself out of eating too much and I'm not saying that the author of the article cannot change the way she feels and behaves around food and weight by changing her awareness, maybe most people can. I just wanted to reach out to the other people like me. I found relief when I implemented a sort of "prescription": a daily plan of action (meds, social support, nutritional guidance) to treat a chronic illness.

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