I wrote this piece in response to the onslaught of negative messages we get about our bodies every day. Each person gets them from different sources. “They” might be the media’s singular portrayal of beauty. “They” might be a shadchan. “They” might be ads for weight loss programs, gyms, or even food packaging. “They” might be your family, your concerned friend, or even your doctor.
The “they” I am addressing personally are the voices in my own head. The voices I have absorbed and internalized from all different sources. The ones who make me look away from photographs or shy away from the camera. The ones who urge me to fixate on my own reflection, scrutinizing every aspect of it. The voices in my head that distract me from my own beauty, purpose, and value. The voices that distort what I see, how I feel, and turn me into my own worst critic.
My guess is that you hear similar voices too.
This is what I have to say to those voices. I don’t always have the strength, wherewithal, or courage to stand up to my own demons, but please allow me to stand up to yours. I may have never met you, but I can say all of these words to you with conviction. This is my attempt to add one more voice to all that noise. One voice that I pray will gain volume and confidence as we repeat her message to ourselves and those around us.
They tell you that you are weak, but…
Were they there while you carried on in your full-time job throughout your pregnancy– a nine-month experience which was its own full-time job?
Do they help you haul groceries, children, books, and laundry–to, from, in, out, up, and down?
Have they cried bitter tears with you when things get hard, and then dried your cheeks to face a new day?
Do they lift you back out of bed–just as you were drifting off–for yet another round of diaper changing and feeding?
Are they among the many hearts and souls that are holding on to your strength?
Were they among those who said “you can’t” and “you won’t”…before you did?
…Maybe they are too afraid to discover how strong you really are.
They tell that you are lazy, but…
Have they counted the seemingly endless items on your To-Do list…or the checkmarks that you meticulously placed as you completed each one?
Have they considered how many schedules you are managing in your mind?
Do they record the hours that you are awake and the hours that you finally find time to sleep?
Are they aware of the preparation and contemplation that precedes anything you set out to accomplish, for yourself and others?
…Maybe they are just worried that they might disappear in the shadow of your achievements.
They tell you that you are “unhealthy” but…
Have they examined you–your blood, your bones, your muscles, your genes, your psyche?
Have the delved into your medical history?
Do they shop for, prepare, and serve the nutritious, varied meals you provide for yourself and your family?
Do they know if or how often you exercise?
Are they interested in the ways you enjoy moving your body?
Have they even bothered to ask how you feel?
…Maybe they are they too self-centered to even care.
They tell you that you are ugly, but…
Have they seen you through the eyes of your parents, your children, your siblings, your spouse, your friends?
Have they seen the glow of the Shabbos candles on your face?
Have they watched the water roll off your body as you emerged from the mikvah?
Have they witnessed the brightness in your eyes when you are deep in conversation?
Have they experienced the energy that you generate when you are doing something you love?
Have they been lifted up by your smile?
…Maybe they are just afraid of being blinded by the radiance of your soul.
They tell you that you lack discipline, but…
Do they taste the blood as you bite your tongue, holding back words you know are better left unsaid?
Did they sit with you through the sleepless nights approaching that impending deadline?
Did they celebrate the culmination of years of work and training at your graduation?
Do they carry that visceral sense of responsibility that comes with being pregnant and is part of every decision that you make?
Do they know how mindful and calculated you are about your lifestyle choices–from what you wear to where you live?
Do they know the care it takes to make room for everything and everyone that is important to you in your full, sometimes overflowing life?
Do they experience the struggle that happens when you have to say “no” to a request for a favor, or even to an opportunity, simply because you need to be more focused on your present commitments?
…Maybe they confuse discipline with perfection.
They tell you that you are over-indulgent, but…
Do they see you providing for others before considering your own needs?
Do they acknowledge that you cannot provide for others without providing for yourself as well?
Do they know how you carve off a portion of your hard-earned money for charity and then another for savings?
Do they know how long and how hard you worked for that reward?
…Maybe they are just too busy worrying about what they don’t have.
They tell you that you take up too much space, but maybe their hearts are too small.
They feel sorry for you and expect you to feel sorry for yourself, but maybe they can’t recognize a rich life when they see one.
They tell you all these things, but they don’t know you at all.
You are heroic. You are strong. You are brave. You are resilient. You are beautiful.
…And maybe anyone who tells you otherwise is only afraid of what you might do if you should ever realize just how powerful you really are.