As an assistant second grade teacher in a Jewish school, I am privy to the ins and outs of a bunch of little girls’ minds. I have the opportunity to see up-close and personal, all the fights, the jokes, and self-discovery moments. I get to see the times they are strong and the times they are weak. I see which girls are brave and which girls are shy. I also see the moments they might not want me to…
I was taking my students to lunch one day, when I overheard some of them jabbering to each other, using a phrase all too familiar to me from my sorority days. The phrase went a little bit like this…I’m.So.Fat. That phrase, those three words, instantly took my attention away from lunch pass hand-out. “Girls,” I said, looking at them sternly.
They giggled a little. “What?”
“I never want to hear any of you saying that again, okay?”
They giggled again. “But I am….” one stammered, giggling again.
I took a deep breath. “No, no,” I said. “Try again, I am…” I said, trying to redirect them the same way I do in a writing lesson.
“Fat?” one answered.
“No,” I said, trying again, “I am…”
Bingo, I thought, just the word I was hoping for. “That’s right,” I said, “Say it over and over…I am beautiful just the way God made me.”
Some of them repeated it as they walked through the halls, and then for a few days after, but then it began to fade until it wasn’t mentioned again. But it still troubled me.
Weight loss was the number one topic on most of the girls’ minds.
I lived in a sorority house for three years. There were about 100 of us living in this one house together. From about January 1st until spring break, weight loss was the number one topic on most of the girls’ minds. They hung clippings of thin models in bathing suits above their closets, wrote “YOU WANT TO BE SKINNY” on their mirrors, complained about an extra inch of fat around the waist line every evening and woke up dreading bathing suit season every morning. It was an obsession.*
Fact: Most of these girls were average weight to very thin.
Fact: Most of these girls spent more of their time concerned with weight gain over anything else, including school, character, and even friendships.
Fact: There was never a Skinny that was Skinny enough once Skinny was the goal. Some of these girls were beautiful, wonderful, intelligent people. They had motivations, aspirations, a whole bucket worth to offer. But when they were obsessing about weight, all they saw was the extra pound they wanted to lose.
The Torah teaches us that God created us in His image. God has no body, no physical features, so what does this mean? We are created in His likeness, in His essence. We have a soul that is unseen, just like God is unseen.
When God was creating the world, He looked at what He had made and said, “It is good.” But on the sixth day, when God created mankind, God looked at what He created and said, “It is very good.” The Creator of the universe made us and thinks we are “very good.” So how can we see our inner beauty?
Let me tell a story:
There was once a very talented shoemaker who was sought out by all the people in the land. He created the most beautiful, unique, and dazzling shoes. People came from far and wide to buy a pair of these one-of-a-kind gems.
One day, the man was working very hard on a pair of shoes for the Princess. The princess, gorgeous as she was, was peculiar. She had long blonde hair, tiny blue eyes, and very, very large feet! The shoemaker had never made shoes of this size before, but it had been his dream to make shoes for the royal family. What could he do? After all, she was the princess. So the shoemaker labored for days and days, creating a unique pair of beautiful shoes custom made to fit the large feet of the princess.
One night he was working very late and fell asleep. When he awoke, his shoe was talking to him.
“Excuse me, Shoemaker! Wake up!” said the shoe.
“What is it?” asked the surprised shoemaker, rubbing his eyes.
“Good day sir,” said the shoe, “I have woken you up to tell you of my grievances. I do not like my sparkling stones, or the pointy tip of my front. I do not like my enormous pearls or the height of my heel. But my biggest grievance is my size. I want to be smaller like all your other shoes!”
The shoemaker looked at the shoe in disbelief, “But my dear, beautiful creation, don’t you see… you are perfect for the princess! If I make you any smaller, you simply will not fit.”
If we recognize our great potential, our uniqueness and the care God took when creating each one of us, we will see how beautiful we truly are. If we see that God made us the way we are for a purpose, we will delight in ourselves. We will write, “I am beautiful,” on our mirrors. We’ll hang pictures of ourselves, instead of supermodels over our closets. We will be overjoyed with the approach of a spring break, instead of dreading it. We will talk about how beautiful we are, and one day our daughters will hear it. They will go to school and tell their friends, “I see what God has made, and it is very good.”
We will write, “I am beautiful,” on our mirrors.
Here’s the exercise I ended up doing with my second grade girls. On a piece of paper, taped into their folder I wrote:
God made me beautiful.
My favorite part about myself is ___________.
My favorite trait about myself is ___________.
Try it yourself. It only takes a minute, but you’ll be grateful that you did.
(*Being overweight is not the goal. Taking care of ourselves, feeling good, and eating smart is. May we all merit to know when skinny is skinny enough and when looking good is good enough, and love ourselves for that!)