My Mama Loves Every(body)
I was never allowed to have a Barbie doll. My mom decreed it a rule in the Bickel household. I asked her why one time when I was six or seven, and she told me that she didn’t want us having dolls that portrayed unrealistic body standards. She didn’t want me and my two sisters growing up thinking that we were supposed to look like Barbies when we grew up. Fashion magazines were also never allowed. What this used to mean was that I always wanted to play with my friends’ Barbies. Now as a 17 year old, the seeds of body positivity that were planted from a young age are finally beginning to take root.
My mother's crusade for body positivity includes not shaving her legs and never dreaming of telling me or any of my sisters anything negative about my body. My mother has never ever told me that I look remotely bad in an article of clothing, even when we are shopping and I ask for her opinion. I am so grateful to learn from her. But living in America hit me eventually. Even if the magazines were kept outside of the house the advertisements were still everywhere. Everywhere.
I’ve always been small and proudly held the title of third shortest girl in the grade for most of my life. But society made me want to be smaller. More insignificant. Skinnier. So I wasn’t the biggest fan of my body throughout adolescence. Then midway through high school, I learned about the body positivity movement. I 100% believe in body positivity, but it’s ridiculously hard in practice. Self love is shockingly radical and stunningly difficult. I try to love my body, I think about it, talk about it, sit on my bed and eat chocolate, and follow a million body positive accounts on instagram, and it’s still so, so, so hard. Because every day messages are hammered into my brain about what a woman should look like. Growing up I legitimately thought I was the most beautiful person on the planet. I could stare at myself in the mirror for hours. And I miss that.
This past summer I spent 5 weeks living with 11 teenage girls. I had two roommates and every night we would choose our outfits for the next day. We would throw clothes all across the room and wait in line for the full length mirror. (This is in no way a negative comment on the amount of time women spend on their appearance.) This evening ritual was punctuated with comments like, “I look fat,” “This looks bad on me,” and conversations like this one:
“I don’t like this. Do you?”
“Yeah sure it’s cute”
“No it’s not”
“It’s cuter than what I’m wearing.”
“You look fine. You always look good.”
“Are you kidding!? I hate this.”
“I’ve gained 10 pounds since being here”
“Don't be ridiculous. I’ve gained 10 pounds not you!”
“I can’t even respond to that. You look good! It’s fine!”
“No, you look fine!”
Each of us stuck in our heads not able to get out. We each clearly saw the ridiculousness of each other’s statements, but were not able to see ourselves clearly. It was easy for us to see everyone else’s bodies in a positive light, but we couldn’t apply this to ourselves.
Right now I’m trying to get to a place where I can say “I accept my body for whatever it is and love it” but I am most certainly not there yet. I need feminism because I still can’t love my body. I need feminism because every single girl I know hates her body. My mom tells me that my grandmother used to do yoga in a bathing suit on the beach. Unafraid. She didn’t care about looking good, but about feeling happy. I hope that my (hypothetical) daughters will be the next links on this family chain of body positivity. And I hope that that I can laugh alongside them while doing yoga on the beach. Just like my mom taught me.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Bickel, Rana. "My Mama Loves Every(body)." 9 May 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 4, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/mama-love-everybody>.