Weighing In

by Rabbi Debra Bennet

The weight issue is weighing on me

The conversation is inevitable: I eat a cookie at the oneg Shabbat and I hear, “You are so lucky that you can eat stuff like that and not weigh more than you do.” Or, I choose not to eat a cookie and I hear, “You are so good. How do you have such will power?” It doesn’t matter whether I eat that cookie or not, I still will hear the comment.

Why my actions and these comments do matter is because of a different conversation all together.

The Bat Mitzvah girl sat in my office and said the one thing she wanted more than anything else was to change how much she weighs. “I am going to join the gym and not eat bad food and maybe I will be better.” Close to tears, she sat there struggling and I sat there scared for her that her struggle would never really end.

The trend of teenage girls (and teenage boys and adults both male and female) basing their own self worth on the number on a scale is not a new phenomenon. I know that well. For five years in high school and the beginning of college, food (or the attempt to avoid it) determined so much of my life. Even so, why I am so troubled by this reality is how it has become a mainstay of conversations no matter where we are or what we are doing. A friend, who for medical reasons is on a gluten free diet, gets comments every time there is a cake at work that she does not eat. Recently, she ate the frosting off of a cake just so people would stop telling her how guilty they felt because of the way she was eating. I heard a second grader (an 8 yr old!) refer to her mom’s conversation with a friend about the mother’s weight. The little girl turned to her friend and asked, “Do you think I should go on a diet soon?”

The conversations are happening everywhere.

And so, our children are hearing them everywhere too. They know what is considered “good” and “bad” and how by embracing the former and rejecting the latter they can maybe, just maybe be good as well.

It is essential that we encourage healthy eating in our congregations, providing alternatives to cookies and soda whenever we can. But, it is essential that we alter these conversations around food as well. I am not naively advocating that a change in speech will stop the epidemic of eating disorders which plagues our country. But, if we do not begin to shift the conversation in our own communities, if we do not begin to model what are acceptable ways to speak about healthful eating and what are ways that lead little girls and boys to feel they are somehow bad for weighing more than they think they should, then I do not believe we are properly conveying the message of B’tzelem Elohim. “Bad” and “good” are words that do not even belong in this discussion. The words that do are “you are loved” and “you are holy” and “your body is a gift that you have been loaned to watch over and protect.”

The weight issue has been weighing on us long enough. At least, let us strive to make our congregations a place where our children will know they can learn and grow and be who they are regardless of a number (real or perceived) on the scale.

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6 thoughts on “Weighing In

  1. It’s such an important distinction – the importance of altering “these conversations around food” and not just accepting it as the new normal. As adults we may be better equipped to handle the criticism or, worse, back handed compliments but children do not. Well said, as always!

  2. I think your timing on writing this is funny because I just wrote this very similar article a little over a week ago: http://emilysamr.blogspot.com/2013/01/careful-things-you-say-children-will.html

    This is a problem I struggle with greatly, too. I am recovered from an eating disorder, myself. Whether or not people are aware of what I went through, I still constantly hear, “You’re so lucky you can eat that,” and “I wish I could eat like you do.” I deal with a never-ending stream of people (both men and women) pushing their insecurities about their weight by comparing my body to theirs.

    It’s true, children hear about this constantly as they grow up. Girls are dieting younger and younger and being told they’re not beautiful because they’re not emaciated. It absolutely breaks my heart to see and hear it. I push and advocate for body positivity, but it’s such a heavy change (no pun intended) that needs to be made. Girls stop doing things they enjoy and/or won’t even try new things simply because of how they feel about their bodies.

    There’s a week in October dubbed “Fat Talk Free Week” that aims to stop conversations about what you eat and body negativity. Every week should be Fat Talk Free Week. All anyone ever talks about is their diet, what they “can and can’t” eat (THERE ARE NO BAD FOODS!), and whether or not their butt looks big in those jeans. It’s only further encouraged by media, not only because the media encourages us to have tiny waists and flawless skin, but because all the primetime shows we watch rope people in with these conversations, too. It’s what people can relate to and it becomes an endless cycle.

    Sorry, my comment is about as long as your entry. I just feel very passionately about the topic of weight and body positivity; I find it hard to get my thoughts out in a brief manner. I’d love to keep the discussion going, though.

    Thank you for writing this.

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