Okay ladies (because I know I lost the men with the title), this one is for all of you big-boned un-toned full-bosomed full-blown beauties out there who struggle daily with your face in the mirror or your Spanx in the morning. This one is for all of you empowered feminists who know not to get sucked in by ‘the system’ and yet find yourselves falling victim to yet another inner-struggle with your outer image. This one is for you who have watched your visage grow ever-bigger-broader-wider and wondered how to handle your emerging self with grace despite those deep seated jabs of self-hate.
I am writing to say that your struggles with weight are but a wide-open portal to your greatest spiritual development. So here’s to treading the ‘body path’ consciously and reaping the unique wisdom that our bursting physiques are begging us to reap.
My Path: From Homecoming Queen to Pregnant & 40
The pursuit of “pretty” is a permanent fixture within me. It sits squarely at the center of my earliest memories, strivings and insecurities. I have chased it feverishly for as long as I can remember. And when I’m not chasing it I’m just as feverishly rebelling against it. (Just take a look at my Protest to Miley Cyrus video.)
The height of this beauty pursuit was high school of course. I was an All-American cheerleader. A pretty-girl. A party-girl. Even got crowned Homecoming Queen. Staggering portions of my self-worth were predicated on being Pretty. Most problematic for me, though, was that pretty was quickly becoming equated with skinny. And skinny I wasn’t, thanks to my formidably thick Russian Jewish genes.
I will never forget that unsettling moment when my high-school boyfriend’s father referred to me as “volumptuous” (awwwkward). And how that same boyfriend later broke up with me for some freshman stick of a girl in an excessively short skirt. I learned well the formula that pretty/desirable = skinny…and skinny I would never be.
Thus began my struggle with body-image. Mostly a quiet behind-closed-doors feud between me and the mirror. Between me and food. Between me and societies’ most demolishing body messages. I have had ups and downs, with bouts of work-outs & short-lived diets. Plenty of dollars spent on surreptitious weight-loss concoctions, herbs and detoxes.
And I have managed. Managed to accept the slow accumulation of pounds per decade. Managed to create a safe distance from mainstream media and its mad dictates. Managed to stay self-confident despite the scale’s loud say.
And yet, beneath all that managing there has been a body-image monster in-waiting. In waiting until now…
Now that I am 40…and pregnant…again.
You know how there are those skinny pregnant women. The ones who don’t look pregnant from behind. Well, I do look pregnant from behind. I look pregnant from behind a van. I am as big and round as an ancient clay goddess of fertility. My hefty waddle is in full-throttle. It’s comical and remarkable and often times unbearable.
I avoid cameras and mirrors. I avoid scales and shopping. I avoid walking outside. I avoid intimacy. I avoid others. I avoid me. I have cancelled speaking gigs. I have made elaborate excuses for staying in bed. I have lied about my due date. I have cried in the front of the mirror and kvetched endlessly to friends. I know I’m a walking wonder of creativity, a cosmic cradle of life. I get the massive miracle going on here beneath all this bulk. But that doesn’t mean I am graciously handling my super-sized self in the mirror. Quite the contrary.
The Turning Point:
It was a few Fridays ago. There I sat in my pre-Shabbat ritual of weeping on my bed, encircled by mounds and mounds of “the world’s most detestable” outfits. Knowing that not a one of them will cover up this bulging form, this third chin, this weighty shame.
And so I just sat there and cried it out piteously.
Until my 5-year old daughter came bounding into the room, begging me to braid her hair so she will “look pretty”. So that she will look PRETTY!
And this all-too-familiar phrase juxtaposed with my own weepy so not-pretty face just jolted me. Thankfully. Finally. Jolted me. Out of that messy slump of self-detest & fat defeat. Pulled me back to real myself and all I knew to be true.
Mainly that I had to get this self-image issue under control once and for all. — For my daughters sake, for my marriage’s sake, for my sake…and, gosh darnit, for the sake of full-bodied women the world over!!
I wiped my tears, cracked a smile and triumphantly stood on the bed in all my enormity. Brought her brush to my lips like a mighty microphone and pronounced: “Beauty, my dear, is not braided hair! Beauty is not embedded in mirrors or reflected in numbers. Beauty is self-love and good-acts and a smiling neshama that faces obstacles with grit. Beauty is not on the surface, it sits at the inner-essence of all worthy people & worthy things!”
My daughter giggled and heartily agreed. She hugged me tight and we proceeded to braid her hair for Shabbat. I threw on some skirt or another and this time bore the sight of myself in the mirror with a smile, a sense of humor and a commitment to make some meaning out of this wild goose chase of self-love in the face of staggering weight.
I was determined to turn this physical growth into spiritual growth. To plumb the lessons inherent in this struggle that had finally & fully risen to the surface.
And though it was pregnancy which accelerated my path of fat-facing enlightenment, I do believe that the wisdom I have gained along the way is applicable to my non-pregnant body struggles and anyone else grappling with weight gain.
So here are the best pieces of wisdom I have gained from my weight gain. I pray they will be growthful.
The Spiritual Path of Fat in 6 Steps
Step 1: Become Fat Conscious
“Consciousness is the goal of all spiritual practice. Only when we are conscious can we truly CHOSE life and live on the enlightened level of free-will.”
With consciousness we can chose to turn off all of those ‘automatic pilot’ switches we rely on to our own detriment. With consciousness we get to take the wheel and drive towards our highest goals of love of self and others instead.
My weight gain birthed a more conscious me. It pushed me to unearth my own long-buried issues with body. I have gotten to see in technicolor reality how readily I bow down to molten images of thin-beauty. I have finally glimpsed my own unfathomably deep — and utterly unproductive — contempt for fat.
To Do: Notice when you’re bowing deep to the molten images of beauty. When do you unconsciously judge or distance yourself from ‘fat people’? When do you deprive yourself or others of love & acceptance because of size? How do you let a preoccupation with beauty drive your life and define your self-worth?
Step 2: Take Out the Trash
With eyes more widely open I have taken another long look at my habits, my life…and my girls’ bedroom. It is shockingly over-spilling with images of teeny-weeny Disney princesses.
In my unconsciousness I just figured, “Ehh, it’s no big deal”. And yet I know empirically from my own weeping in the mirror that it is a big deal. A very big deal.
Why has it been okay with me to stuff my daughter’s impressionable minds with these images of pretty = skinny? Especially when I know very well that they will most likely be inheritors of my Jewish Princess – not Disney Princess – genes?
Why? Because I was unconscious.
But now I want to be proactive. So, yes, I just threw out the Barbies, the Auroras, the Cinderellas. I like little Sofia, she can stay. But the rest got to go.
To Do: Look around your house. Where are there objects or messages that mar your self-love and acceptance? Ask yourself, “After looking at this magazine/Tv show/toy am I – or my children – more or less likely to end up weeping in the mirror?”
And then throw away the toxicity, my friends. Just throw it away.
Step 3: Get Trigger Happy:
Here is my commitment. Every time I get triggered by my own self-detest in the looking glass, I will use that very trigger as a reminder to love myself instead. Perhaps it sounds trite. But trite works, y’all. It’s like Pavlov’s dog hearing the bell. The mirror trigger of detest reminds me to pronounce my new mantra instead, “I am big & beautiful.”
To Do: Pick the self-loving mantra that works best for you. Next time you find yourself muttering under your breathe how ugly/fat you are, quickly just insert this new statement instead. Try it. It works.
Step 4: Remember Golda & Get Resourceful:
Golda Meir said fabulously, “Not being beautiful was the true blessing. Not being beautiful forced me to develop my inner resources. The pretty girl has a handicap to overcome.
Golda got it. And here is our chance to get it too.
Remember my Friday afternoon paradigm shift? Part of my agony was that we were about to have 30 tourists over for Shabbat dinner. Our job was to share with them the beauty of this Jewish tradition. Inside of me was this horrific little gremlin that insisted that our guests would simply not have a good time if their hostess was anything other than thin & pretty!
Banishing the gremlin from my mind, I said to myself, “Well, I’ll just have to rely on my stellar intelligence, wit and charm instead.” And that is what I did. I got resourceful and it was so deeply rewarding.
To Do: Develop your inner resources. How many hours a day would you have to invest in exercising to be thin? Imagine if you invested that much time in developing your inner-muscles of mind, communication, personality? Who are you inside? What are your valuable ideas, opinions and unique service in the world that have nothing to do with your looks? Focus there! Move the focus from your outer features to your inner treasures. And polish those inner gems.
Step 5: Shift from Body to Soul
Stop for a moment and point to yourself. Where do you point? Your face, your chest? Where are YOU located, after all? Where is the self that you identify with?
Every spiritual tradition agrees, we are souls inside of bodies. And yet, so often we sculpt our self identity with the clay of our physical form. The truth is, the body is but the vessel that keeps our souls tethered to ground.
I have always believed this to be true. But I learned it on a whole new level, in my limbs, when I put on this extra weight. I remember one morning when I was at the grocery, feeling fat as usual. I was walking down the aisles all self-conscious about my puffy cheeks & waddle. When suddenly I just got fed up with the discomfort & self-consciousness and decided to see myself not as my bulging body but as my in-dwelling soul.
The good news about my fat-discomfort was that it pushed me, literally pushed me, out of identifying myself as my face. I am not my puffy cheeks. I am the soul shining through my eyes.
Getting fat has guided me to identify less with my body and more with my soul.
To Do: The next time you are walking around self-consciously remember, “I am not my body. I am my soul.” Revision yourself. Re-identify. Use this as an opportunity to oust your body from the throne of your self-identity and place your soul there instead.
Step 6: Be Healthy…Truly Healthy
G!d forfend that this approach should be taken as a license to ignore our bodies, be reckless or eat carelessly. By all means, eat healthy, move your body. It is your soul’s vehicle after all – best to keep it running clean.
But don’t stop there. So often we think the only way to reach our goals is to hate and punish ourselves out of our ‘laziness’. Every day as a psychotherapist I watch clients cling on to self-hate because they think it is productive. Because they think it is the only way to change, to improve, to generate success. “If I hate my fat self then I will be more likely to exercise.” Maybe.
But I have found that those external ‘successes’ born from self-pushing through self-hate do NOT create a truly successful life. They might generate external milestones but they do not generate internally satisfied lives.
To Do: Hold the paradox of self-improvement from a place of love and acceptance. Self-shaming ourselves into success does not a successful life make.
Self-love, my friends, is the sole path, the soul path, for a truly rewarding life.
Step 7: Celebrate the Gains!
So here’s to celebrating our bodies in all their shapes, shades and sizes. May we greet the souls that peek out from behind our faces. May we use life’s most challenging experiences to generate greater growth, greater consciousness, more weightiness & fulfillment. When we gain weight may we also gain wisdom!