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.