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Walking Into the New Year

This past summer was the first time I can remember — maybe since childhood — where I didn’t have to wear spandex, shorts, Spanx, tights or some other thigh-chaff-resistant garment. I’ve naturally lost weight since winter, about a pant size or two. Now, each time I wear a dress or skirt, I leave my apartment in shock that my inner thighs are actually touching, sliding against one another skin to skin, without pain.

And each time, I marvel at how I don’t have to dress around the material that would normally protect my thighs from sticking together and sprouting red bumps. Each time, I convince myself that this won’t last, that before I know it, all of the weight will weave itself back onto my legs and lower abdomen. I vacillate between joy at this newfound experience, and fear that said joy chastises my previously bigger thighs. As a body empowerment advocate and supporter of Health at Every Size, I even worry that by reveling in awe of my own thighs — which still, to my genuine delight, mush into thick, malleable dough when I sit — I’m somehow shaming anyone whose thighs do chaff or cause pain when left uncovered.

This paradox of simultaneously wanting to celebrate the body while also chastising it feels very… well… Jewish.

It is a comical Jewish cultural trope to have a family member negatively comment on one’s weight and offer leftovers in the same breath, especially during food-filled holidays like Rosh Hashanah. This mixed message can be incredibly damaging.

At a wedding this summer, someone ran up to me and exclaimed her shock and excitement over my weight loss. She said she didn’t recognize me from behind. She couldn’t believe it! And then, while patting my shoulder, she said, “Good for you!”

Good for me? Does that mean my body was “bad” before I lost a little weight? Does that mean my body was not “good” before? These congratulatory comments around weight loss overtly imply that smaller bodies are better than larger ones. Shouldn’t I be the judge of what feels right for the vessel through which my soul navigates this world? And since I am in no way promoting weight loss as a necessary or even healthy action for body-love, shouldn’t every individual be the advocate for what feels right for his or her own body?

In Judaism, our soul — neshamah — is indistinguishable from our bodies. They are one unit ushering us with powerful grace through our lives. In Judaism, our lives are punctuated by incredible prayers, rituals and customs that allow us to wrestle with our mortality in a way that both enhances the individual and the community — strengthening us apart and together.

I am now nine years recovered from a decade-long eating disorder. I had a spiritual awakening one night in college where I finally understood my body’s mortality: Through binging and purging, I kept getting closer to death. This epiphany ultimately allowed me to heal and immediately — literally the next day — commit to recovering. My faith in God, and perhaps more importantly my concern with and for my soul, allowed me to honor my body.

So now, all these years into being fully recovered, when I doubt my body in any way I take pause. I think about how not only I, but others, are responding and reacting to how my body has shifted these past months, and I cannot help but think about how we all take inventory of each other’s bodies as an accepted cultural practice.

What would happen if we stopped passing judgment on each other’s sizes and shapes while simultaneously making sure we are physically fed with an abundance of food? What would happen if we nourished each other only with comments of praise and acceptance — avoiding body and weight altogether — to compliment our delicious platters of brisket and kugel and lox?

These mixed messages of body and food praise are pummeled with shame and judgment. And they begin, no doubt, inside our own heads. Part of me actually feels guilty for having lost weight, guilty for so sensually loving my inner thighs. But is it not ridiculous of me to silence my joy in not wearing spandex or shorts because I feel guilty on behalf of both my former self and others? Is it not ridiculous that I hesitate celebrating my body because I fear that somehow, by the time I’ve finished praising myself inside my own head, I’ll have gained all of the weight back, and I’ll be “bad” again like the person implied at the wedding? I’m so worried that this newfound “thigh joy” will somehow unravel all of the incredibly hard work I’ve done for my own body-acceptance, as well as for others.

My hope for these holidays is that they may be an opportunity for us to love, celebrate and honor both our bodies and our relationship with food. May we walk into this New Year with a commitment to challenge the negative comments about body and food that we feed each other and ourselves. May we sit by our loved ones’ sides eating our favorite foods unabashed and unashamed. May we cease from commenting on each other’s weight while in the same sentence sending mixed messages and offering an abundance of nourishment. May our nourishment be the foods we eat, the love we share, and the bodies in which we live this Rosh Hashanah and in the year to come. And always. May we always love these bodies, and have a sweet, sweet year.

Caroline Rothstein is a New York City-based writer, performer and advocate who contributes regularly to the Sisterhood blog. Follow her on Twitter @cerothstein.

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