Love Your Body Day and the Jewish Holidays
Back to school means a few things to this Jewess: buying new white shirts (they never last more than a season) and preparing for the High Holidays. This fall, there may be a few other things on our collective plates, it being an election season and all, but I want to propose that we spend the next few weeks preparing not only for Rosh HaShana (September 29 - October 1) and Yom Kippur (October 9), but also for Love Your Body Day, an annual event (now in its 10th year) sponsored by NOW, which falls on October 15 (also Sukkot, this year).
I don't think I have to go into the prevalence of body-hatred that corrodes the identity of so many women. And other writers more articulate than I have researched and written about the specific challenge to Jewish women to feel good about their bodies. But anecdotally, having grown up almost exclusively with girls in elementary/middle school (our class was 75% female), camp, and education grad school, I've watched incredibly talented, beautiful, intelligent, and critically-thinking girls and women locked into an eternal struggle with their bodies to conform to an arbitrary and unreachable standards. For Jewish women especially, the tension between a rich food culture, contradictory ideals of the zaftig and the rail-thin, and the constant confusion of being accepted into mainstream (read: white) culture while trying to maintain a unique ethno-cultural identity is one that leads far too many people to unhealthy and dangerous relationships with food and the mirror.
The Love Your Body Campaign suggests several ideas for promoting positive self-image and combating the negative images of women omnipresent in the media. Among the suggested "actions" are hosting a women's health forum in your community, working with friends or neighbors to mentor a group of girls (like a Girl Scout troop) about body-image and negative media attention paid to women's bodies, and boycotting companies that use negative images of women in their advertising. They also host an annual Love Your Body poster contest. The winning images are available for sale online and as e-cards that you can send to friends.
I would argue that there are even more specific things that Jewish women can do to prepare for Love Your Body Day as part of our preparation for the high holidays. What would it mean if instead of Rosh HaShanah cards, we sent "Love Your Body" cards to our friends? What if we ignore the "tradition" of wearing expensive, uncomfortable clothes and instead dressed for the holidays in something comfortable and simple that didn't eclipse the spiritual meaning of the days? What if in addition to atoning for our sins against others, we work on atoning for the sins we've transgressed against ourselves?