In the religious Jewish community I find women’s wellness to be quite an interesting topic. The role of the woman in the Jewish home is quite complex, can be extremely demanding, and often times creates situations where the wellness of the woman—be it spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical—takes a backseat to all of the other demands on her time and energy. Although clearly every one of these aspects of wellness are crucial to a woman’s ability to perform her ever-important role in her home, community, and work place, I’d like to focus this article on one aspect of her wellness that impacts all other areas of function: her physical being.
Through religious study of a spiritual nature examining the relationship of the soul to the body, or through medical study that includes a holistic approach, we know today that the two are intricately connected. The wellness of the soul directly influences the wellness of the body, and the perception of the body directly influences the condition of the soul and all it encompasses. What we term this concept today in more simple language is “body image.” Body image is defined as “the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body.” In all my years as a woman, as a mother, and as a therapist, I have yet to meet one woman who is not influenced in some way by body image. (By the way, body image issues impact boys and men as well in significant ways; however in this article my focus is on women.)
Our view of our own bodies, even in the religious world where we know a higher value is placed upon the internal elements of a person’s character as opposed to physical looks, is heavily influenced by our culture, the media, and every-day comparisons of ourselves to others. In addition, how we speak about ourselves, take care of ourselves, and generally carry ourselves, is passed along from generation to generation, further accentuating how our children and grandchildren develop internal dialogue about their own bodies. If a mother, G-d forbid, thinks poorly of herself and utters the words, “I’m fat” in the presence of her daughter, it is only a matter of time before those exact same words come out of the daughter—at younger and younger ages through the generations—regardless of the actual size of the person. Our words and actions are all-powerful. As women we have a huge responsibility to ourselves and our children to consciously watch what we say and how we act, even if it is hard, and even if we have to “fib”. In other words, even if we actually are overweight or struggling with an eating disorder or body image issue, our words in front of our children should reflect worthiness and self-respect. This may not be easy, but it is essential, and I’m doing what I can to support women in this effort. The following are some of the ways you can learn how to help yourself and your children in this revolution to support women’s wellness and positive body image.
There are many ways to educate yourself about how to develop and teach to your children positive body image language and behavior. Become familiar with how the media works and what techniques they use to create false, impossible images through Photoshop and image distortion. As pioneers, the State of Israel just recently passed a law that includes two crucial rules to help develop positive body image in young Israeli women. First: A minimum body mass index (BMI) has been established in Israel for professional models and no model who is below this BMI may be hired to work. Second: any image of a person in advertisement that has been altered in any way must disclose this alteration in the bottom corner of the ad. Now that Israel as stepped forward and taken this firm and public stance against the negative impact the media has on young women, many countries around the world are starting to take note and do the same.
Even in our religious communities where we limit access to public media, it is impossible to avoid some exposure—especially here in Los Angeles where almost every billboard has some image or saying that influences the viewer. Our young Jewish women see magazine covers at the store, see all kinds of people walking down the street, and certainly do not escape from dealing with eating disorders and body image issues. For several months now I have been writing a blog as the mental health expert for an organization called Healthy is the New Skinny (HNS for short). Founded by a plus-size model and her husband, their aim is to bring awareness to how the deceit and pressures from the modeling industry promote unhealthy body image as well as eating disorders and sickness. They have truly begun a revolution and with over 40,000 followers on their Facebook page they are starting to make a difference in bringing awareness to positive body image and the impact media has on all of us. I am not including their website or Facebook address here because the images on their sites are not in accordance with the Jewish practices of modesty and so I leave it to your choice to learn more at your own discretion. However, their message is a powerful and important one and one that I whole-heartedly support: The focus must be on being healthy and not on being skinny. My blog specifically has focused on the connection between mental health and body image bringing attention to how these matters impact all of us. In addition, I filmed two internet shows with HNS discussing these topics in detail to help promote positive body image and expose the modeling industry’s negative impact on our psyche. These can be found on my personal YouTube page, again with the understanding that some content may not be appropriate for younger and/or religious viewers.
As my involvement with the subject matter of body image expanded, I discovered a shared passion for encouraging women to love themselves regardless of size, shape, color, or faith. My friend and colleague Karen Halaszi (of Karen Michelle Boutique on Robertson Blvd) and I decided to team up and create the first ever annual “Love Your Body Fashion Show” to be held on Sunday, November 3, 2013 at the Luxe Hotel on Sunset Blvd. The evening will include a host of wellness experts and various retailers for the boutique part of the evening which will then be followed by a live fashion show with models of every size, shape, color, and age. A portion of the proceeds of the event will go to support the mission and work of Healthy is the New Skinny, and the founders and professional models of HNS will be there in person to meet and greet people and share their inspiring energy. The evening is meant to empower and enrich women’s sense of body image. It is meant to express that beauty is not something that is dictated to us by the media but rather something that lives within each one of us. Although the event is not specifically a Jewish one and will have women of all types in attendance, it is a women-only event hosted by women, for women. Karen and I personally invite you to attend and to bring your daughters and friends. Information about the event can be found at www.karenmichelle.com. I will be there both to host the event and to answer any questions about women’s wellness and mental health. Please feel free to find me and introduce yourself, it would be my pleasure and honor to meet you.
As we all know and as is stated directly by the greatest sages of Judaism, the woman is the foundation of the home. She is the cornerstone for the future of the Jewish people and it is on her shoulders that the raising of future generations rests. It is up to each one of us to develop a sense of wellness and value of our intrinsic G-d given worth so that we can fully live up to our potential for ourselves and future generations. I hope you will join me in this revolution to embrace a positive body image regardless of size so that we can teach women to shift the focus onto good health and well-being and to help future generations to do the same.
Follow-up to the fundraising for Jewish Day Schools articles
If you have been reading this column for a while you know that I had been doing a series of articles about the cost of Jewish Day School tuition and my ideas for raising some money for scholarships. Given that people’s resources—both time and money—are limited, I’ve decided to combine two events into one. Instead of hosting a separate women’s event to raise money for day schools, Karen Halaszi and I have agreed that for any woman who attends the November 3rd fashion show and mentions this article at the registration table a portion of that person’s ticket fee will be donated to Jewish Day School scholarship funds. This will enable you to enjoy a wonderful occasion while supporting Jewish Day School at the same time. We hope you will join us and look forward to seeing you there!
Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC is a licensed clinical psychotherapist and educator with a private practice in Beverly Hills, California. Mia is licensed in both California and Illinois and she can be reached through her website at www.bhcounselingcenter.com or followed on Twitter @MiaAdlerOzair.