Dear Rebbetzin Feige,
I’ve been struggling with having a positive body image. When I got married five years ago, I was very thin and felt that I looked good. Since then, I’ve gained weight and have been unsuccessful in losing it. I tell myself that I don’t have to be thin to look beautiful but somehow, I don’t really believe it.
My husband has never mentioned this issue. I have never brought it up to him, as I don’t want to draw attention to it. The situation doesn’t seem to bother him. However, it does bother me in our relationship. I am more inhibited in the intimate aspects of our relationship. I feel the need for complete darkness when we are together, I cover myself with a blanket, and I don’t wear the same clothing that I used to. My husband has commented on multiple occasions that he would prefer if, when we are alone, I wear the types of clothing that I used to. But I don’t feel attractive wearing those more revealing outfits, so I tell him that it’s just easier and more comfortable for me not to. I know that he is confused and hurt, not understanding why I won’t do him this favor. I am hoping you could give me some perspective on this issue. Thank you.
Rebbetzin Feige Responds
My dear reader,
Some years ago a man walked into our synagogue on a Friday evening and observed the services as a curious bystander. It was quite obvious that it was a first time experience for him. At the conclusion of the service, my husband, the Rabbi, walked over to him and asked if he would care to join him for a Shabbat meal at our home.
He acquiesced and as they were walking towards the exit my husband apologized in advance for the request he was about to make. He then asked Alex, the young man, to empty out his pockets in the synagogue office so he would not be violating the constrictions of Shabbos observance. Alex, though perplexed, conceded. On the walk to our home, my husband proceeded to explain his strange request.
Our real identity runs much deeper than the material things in our life.
Shabbat, he told Alex, was a time of shedding all the peripheral accoutrements of our life so as to maximize our ability to confront who we really are. The entire week our identity is drawn from the items we carry in our pockets - the keys to the car we drive (posh or otherwise), credit cards that indicate credit ratings and social standing, driver’s license that provides information about our age and appearance, etc. The statement we are making when we let go and divest ourselves of these things for the 24-hour period is that on this spiritual day we want to acknowledge that the real us - our real identity- runs much deeper and is far more significant than the material and physical things in our life. Indeed, Shabbat is a day when we do a reality and awareness check.
My dear reader, the pendulum measuring the values of our society seem to be slowly but surely swinging in the direction of celebrating quality over appearances and fluff. While in the car today I heard the announcement of the sudden death of James Gandolfini, the popular actor. The entertainment industry and fans were devastated and in total shock. The discussion that ensued was about how counterintuitive it was that a man with a pot belly and a receding hairline could have achieved so much and been so beloved and acclaimed. The conclusion drawn was that his personality, character, humility and talent far outweighed his deficiencies in the classic George Clooney model. They claimed that substance is garnering greater and greater appeal even in, of all places, Hollywood. Additionally, it is noteworthy that Oprah, who wields more influence than any woman in American society, has not achieved it through physical beauty.
Having said that, dear reader, the real gist of your conundrum lies not with what other people think of you. An on-point observer of human interactions cynically commented, “There is something existentially alarming about finding out how little room we occupy and how little allegiance we command in other people’s heads.” Your challenge is the need for a paradigm shift in your own thinking, in your own head. Regardless of size and physical configuration, the crucial factor is how one carries herself, her confidence and self-assurance.
Regardless of size and physical configuration, the crucial factor is how one carries herself.
Consider Judy, a young woman who married into a family of classically beautiful women. She was by no means thin or good looking by objective standards. However, she exuded an air of confidence, an aura of being comfortable in her own skin that endeared her to everyone she met. She moved in both familiar and unfamiliar circles with equal grace and ease.
How can one achieve a persona of confidence?
My brother-in-law Rav Shlomo Twerski of blessed memory shared the secret with me. It has been hugely helpful in my life. He suggested that if one can overcome the natural inclination to focus on oneself and instead concentrate on the person or people with whom he is interacting, the result will be powerful. Focus on self makes one self-conscious and insecure, whereas honing in on the other – their pain, their joys and concerns – relieves one of the necessity to “breathe down one’s own neck” ad nauseam. It broadens ones horizons and gives one an appreciation of what is truly important.
On a practical level I would suggest exercise, not necessarily for weight loss purposes but for the energy and uplifting quality it provides. Outdoors, sunshine, nature, and God’s world are all great mood boosters. I would guess that you probably have done the basics- i.e. checked your thyroid, engaged in “portion control” which my doctor claims is the most effective in maintaining a healthy eating pattern.
Dear reader, please don’t allow your marriage to suffer. Oblige your husband; give him what he wants. A therapist counseled a young woman who was feeling less than attractive in the bedroom. He told her to remember that she was the only woman in the room. No comparisons were being made and most certainly her husband was nothing less than delighted with her. Be advised that it is your thinking and your thinking alone that gets in your way.
Good luck and God bless you.