I glance down at my body in the shower, and the first thought that crosses my mind is: oh, there's that little belly that I don't like. And then I make the conscious effort to think a different thought: oh, there's that beautiful belly which grew our son. I can make the shift, but it requires a kind of mental wrenching, pulling my thoughts away from the well-worn groove to channel them in a different direction.
I know that my body is a miracle. (I remind myself of that every day when I say the asher yatzar blessing.) So why does my mind still immediately leap to criticism, instead of praise? To the things I don't like, instead of the things that I love?
It's a cliché to say that this is what mainstream American culture teaches women to do, but I think there's truth in it. We learn to belittle our bodies instead of praising them. To always be striving to be a few pounds thinner, a little bit more like the images we see in fashion magazines. (I know that men wrestle with this too. But I think women get more of these messages than men do.) I don't think that's an emotionally or spiritually healthy way to live.
In her powerful essay Hello, I Am Fat, Lindy West writes, "I have lived in this body my whole life. I have wanted to change this body my whole life." Is there anyone reading this who doesn't feel a twinge of I-can-relate-to-that? I don't want to co-opt Lindy's words or her passion; my body more-or-less fits the norms my society values. But even with this body, I still struggle with the ingrained impulse to belittle. And I'm not alone. Here's fashion blogger Sally McGraw:
I’m a normal woman, in every way. And yet I spend inordinate amounts of energy hating this perfectly normal body. My own and only body...
Dear Body, // I owe you an apology...
I often wish for "more" or "better." Wish my spare tire could vanish, arms could hold muscle tone, hips would slenderize, boobs would enlarge, skin would clear up. My wishlist is long, but it contains items that I feel are quite normal. However, when I wish, I wish for different things than what you can naturally provide for me, and my wishes are insulting to the abundance of goodness you offer me.
That's her post A Letter to My Body - Part 2. Is there anyone reading this who can't relate to the desire for a body which is "more" or "better" instead of the body one actually has?
I want better for us. Not better bodies, but better ways of loving the bodies we have, and better ways of staying mindful of how amazing it is that we have bodies to love. Being who I am, I turn to Jewish tradition for tools I can use in this holy work. The asher yatzar blessing is one. And since I didn't include a translation in my last post about it, I'll offer one here:
Blessed are You, Adonai our God
Who forms the human body with wisdom
And creates within it a miraculous combination
Of organs and arteries, tissues and sinews.
It is known before Your throne of glory
That if one of these were to be open where it should be closed
Or closed where it should be open
We would not be able to stand before you and offer praises.
Blessed are You, Adonai, creator of embodied miracles!
(And if you want a beautiful calligraphic rendering of this prayer in Hebrew, soferet Jen Taylor Friedman offers one as a thank-you gift for those who make a small donation to Pardes.) In the birchot ha-shachar, the traditional morning blessings which are part of our daily liturgy, we bless God Who opens our eyes, makes firm our steps, strengthens the weary, crowns us with splendor. These bodies in which we live offer us endless opportunity for offering blessings.
And Jewish tradition holds that we are all made b'tzelem Elohim, in the divine image. Each of us is a reflection of divinity. What does God look like? Like me. And you. And you. And you. Every single human being who has ever lived and who will ever live is a facet of the divine reflection. Think about that for a moment, and marvel with me.
Every skin color. Every shape and body type. Every expression of gender. Everybody -- and I mean that in its most literal sense, every body -- is a reflection of God. What would it be like if each of us could unlearn the habit of disliking our bodies, and replace it with the mantra this body is a reflection of God, exactly as I am?