Sunday, December 9, 2012

on self-image

This morning, as we were sitting down to daven, 8 yo suddenly told me that he does not like his hair, he feels it does not go well with his face. I said that his curls are beautiful (he's the only one from the kids to have thick, dark curls) and that I wished that I had hair like that. He continued how he does not like his face, it is too thin... I said that he was the cutest kid I ever met and I was so happy that he's mine. He said: "You are just saying that to cheer me up! I don't like to look at my face in the mirror. At that point, I tried to reassure him a bit more, but it was not going anywhere, so we moved on to davening.

This whole exchange pained me. I sort of pride myself on having a healthy body image. I do not count my calories, I am not an exercise freak, and I do not complain about how I look. One of the things I loved about quitting teaching is that I did not have to put on make up every day. I did not have to carefully dress, to look older and authoritative. I could gravitate to clothes which were functional and comfortable. My line for the first year of baby's life: they really don't care what you are wearing, they will spit up all over it anyway!

Tying into this: I am seven months pregnant now, so, obviously, I have a belly. When my mother was looking at our pictures from the canyon, she remarked how the beige jacket sits so well on me, you almost cannot see my bump. Just last night, my mother-in-law offered to take my picture. I demurred (my hair was not covered). She immediately chimed in that she can do just the top, don't worry about the waist.

I remember as a teenager poring over my parents' pictures. There is not one picture of my mother pregnant with me. There is one picture of her being pregnant with my sister. My husband does not have any pictures of his mother being pregnant either. Is this a cultural thing? Or do women feel so bad about how they look that they want no trace of their state?

Well, I am proud of my belly. There is a new life growing inside it. What's so embarrassing about that? So I gained some weight; that's normal. I just look, well, pregnant.

After I had my oldest, two weeks' postpartum, I was already being told to wear a girdle and to wrap my belly tightly in a bedsheet, to "preserve my figure". I did not know better, but I discovered pretty quickly that it is uncomfortable to nurse in a girdle. Nursing took prioriry, so I ditched the girdle, and nursed my kid till he was a year. I did not lose pregnancy weight till after he was weaned, and I was left with quite a bit of sagging. After I had my second, the same thing happened, only this time I did not even try the girdle.

I joke that I always look slightly pregnant, but that's just so I have something to show for all these human beings that I produced. My body did its job marvelously: from sustaining and nurturing a baby, to holding on to necessary weight for nursing. One does not have three kids and looks like a teenage twig. What's embarrassing about that?

So here is my message, my dear son: you are who you are. Your body is amazing and there is nothing wrong with it. What counts is not how people perceive and judge you, but how you appear before Hashem. Are you kind? Are you caring? Are you involved in doing G-d's will? Hashem's mirror is softer on the superficiality and appearances, but much harsher on significance.

As for myself, here I am in all my pregnant glory:


  1. Ilana, this post is beautiful. And you are stunning, in all your pregnant glory. I love reading your blog. -tk

  2. You look awesome! Great article!

  3. lovely post on self-image; you have such a healthy approach. I do think that your son is developmentally on target--becoming self-concious, looking around and comparing himself to others. My kids are at this stage too, I think it's normal, and with time and feeling your unconditional love, will learn that he is wonderful the way he is :)