Family First Inbox: Issue 827| January 17, 2023
“To literally go on and on about women and girls and “horror” stories did absolutely nothing to help the situation”
I’m Never Enough [We Have a Weight Problem / Issue 826]
Thank you, Miriam (Pascal) Cohen, for the way you brought the ugly topic of fat shaming to light in the warmest of ways.
I, too, don’t believe my husband when he calls me beautiful because I’ve internalized modern society’s thoughts on what constitutes beauty. I wasn’t subjected to ridicule at a young age, as the only weight I’ve had to lose in my life has been post-baby weight.
But I’ve never been slim enough, never clear-skinned enough, never simply enough. And all this is in my own head. I’m my own worst critic because someone out there will always have physical features I don’t have.
I come from a loving family who will only say “you’re beautiful” to someone who has lost a significant amount of weight or maintains their narrow waistline. I’m close to tears as I realize I’ve absorbed the message that you’re only worthy of being positively noticed if your waistline is a certain number of inches.
I’ve watched family members speak of themselves in terms of loathing when they need to fit into wedding gowns and are bigger than they’d like to be. I’ve watched these same loved ones swallow dangerous pills, be defrauded by charlatans with “cures,” and join in every silly “weight loss” plan there is out there.
I’ve heard them bemoan that they aren’t heavy ENOUGH to qualify for bandings/surgery. I’ve heard young women (jokingly?) say they don’t want to become pregnant because it’ll ruin their “hard work.”
I’ve done my best to never mention weight in front of my own impressionable daughters, but they haven’t been able to escape it either. My ten-year-old mentions how classmates discuss their mothers’ diet plans.
My 13-year-old spoke of how camp friends made such a big deal of her amazingly slim body (that’s purely genetic) that she felt a confused pride about something she never even noticed before. She then started parsing her snacks for the first time. When I confronted her about it, she admitted she’s afraid of gaining weight and losing her “status.”
Why? Why do our children need to be burdened with our own insecurities?
The latest insecurity that has me nauseated is the unsubtle and demeaning question, “Ladies, are you scared of aging?” Is the natural order of things something to be feared? The conversations have turned to the latest array of services offered by salons and doctors: Botox, fillers, and tummy tucks. Friends and relatives speak of Mommy Makeovers like motherhood is something to be erased, something ugly.
What will the tears of the next generation of beautiful, wonderful women be about?
Totally Insensitive [We Have a Weight Problem / Issue 826]
I’m writing... no… I’m screaming in regards to Miriam (Pascal) Cohen’s five-page article titled, “We Have a Weight Problem.”
Are you for real?
Do you not realize there are teenage girls and young adults who read this magazine? What message did you plan to drive home by publishing it? What was your end game?
These body image articles need to be handled with much discretion and wisdom. How do you now think all the young girls and all the young adults feel after reading such an article? Empowered? Joyful? Part of the gang? More likely depressed!
I’m shocked and appalled that this article even made it in.
The writer’s excessive use of the word “fat” was in and of itself inexcusable. To literally go on and on about women and girls and “horror” stories did absolutely nothing to help the situation. It only drove home the fear of what may happen to any overweight girl. It empowered no one.
We didn’t need to hear every single teeny tiny little detail of all these women you claim reached out to you. I’m not saying that the 4,000 responses the writer claims she got when she put her experience online weren’t sad and distressing, BUT there’s no reason this had to be put in Family First.
Much more shame has now been cast upon this private and personal situation. I couldn’t hold myself back and tore this article out and gave it to a contemporary of mine (who is non-Jewish) who works in a major center for eating disorders, just to make sure I wasn’t getting ahead of myself.
She had no words. When she was done reading this, I was ashamed to tell her where it came from, so I didn’t give the name of the magazine.
PLEASE use sensitivity when writing such articles and realize how far-reaching such articles can be and how much distress you can cause our young generation, which is already so vulnerable.
I Got Married, Too [We Have a Weight Problem / Issue 826]
Thank you, Miriam (Pascal) Cohen, for this unbelievably raw, sensitive, and well-written article about fat shaming, and thank you Family First for publishing it. I cried reading it. I directly experienced so many of the stories, feelings, and comments you described.
My parents were very well-meaning and did the best they could, but when I was growing up, not much was known about the long-term effects of the constant dieting, shaming, and focus on size.
From way too young an age, I, too, was told I wouldn’t be able to get married at my weight. I, too, was shocked when my (by the way, thin) husband, a top boy my parents couldn’t believe said yes to me, told me he couldn’t care less about my weight and that I was beautiful.
The first few years of my marriage were the greatest therapy, my husband’s genuine unconditional acceptance healing years and years of pain and shame. I’m in a much better place now and try to spread my newfound self-acceptance one small comment at a time. When a coworker eats a doughnut but talks the whole time about how guilty she feels about it, or when a friend mentions in passing she’s disgusted by her weight, I try to make a comment about how Hashem made people of all different sizes.
I have a little daughter. Right now she isn’t chubby. I don’t know if her genes will catch up with her or not, and I can honestly say I don’t care. I’m so careful never to put myself down around her. She has never heard Mommy say, “I’m so fat.” When I do decide to go on a diet, I tell her I’m only eating certain foods now to feel more energetic — which in the ideal is the truth. I’ll give her the gift of loving and valuing herself and others regardless of size.
I have a close family member in shidduchim now who is larger. It tears me apart how she is told, and therefore feels, that she can’t get married unless she loses a lot of weight. She tries so hard, but it’s a lot harder for some people than others.
Why can we believe that Hashem made some people with blue eyes and some with brown, but not some thinner and some fatter? How is it possible that there are so many differences in appearance that nobody gives a thought to, but when it comes to weight there is only one “correct” size?
If you’re in this cycle of self-loathing and shame, cross over to the other side with me. It takes a lot of internal work, but is so, so worth it. We can change this together, one person at a time.
Marriage Is a Spiral [Compared To What? / Issue 826]
I really enjoyed Mrs. Debbie Greenblatt’s article about comparison in marriage, and fantasy lives versus truth. I think I first learned this lesson years ago. There was an adorable young couple in my neighborhood who used to frequently take long leisurely walks together. How I envied them for their ability to organize so much quality time together.
Until I heard about their divorce.
I then realized that those leisurely walks were probably far from pleasurable.
I like to imagine my own marriage as a spiral path that climbs higher and higher. My husband and I enjoy a wonderful marriage that is characterized by lots of hard work. Working out differences using effective communication can be so brutal at times.
But I know our marriage is growing when the next time I face the same challenge I find myself on higher ground than the time before. My husband and I often marvel at our ability to genuinely resolve hurt feelings or misunderstandings in a fraction of the time and with so much less pain than we did years ago.
May we all be zocheh to build and enjoy beautiful marriages.
Postscript to a Beautiful Story [SisterSchmooze / Issue 825]
What a pleasant surprise it was when I flipped through the Family First and noticed the beautiful picture and story about my grandfather, Rabbi Nachman Bulman ztz”l, penned by the talented Miriam Zakon. The anecdote about a corned beef with a questionable hechsher illustrates the big shoulders my Zeide had — the combination of tremendous Torah knowledge and compassionate heart.
What Mishpacha readers likely don’t know about is the postscript to that story. The Zakons’ relationship with my grandfather didn’t end with Migdal Haemek, the idealistic community of Anglos that unfortunately didn’t last. Approximately 30 years later, my grandparents were living in Neve Yaakov and my grandfather was facing the end of his life, overcome by an illness that turned a man with a brilliant mind, a magnificent orator, and the biggest ohev Yisrael into a shadow of who he’d been.
Week after week (I witnessed this personally), there was a knock on the door and there stood Miriam Zakon and Diane Liff. “We’re here for our shiur with the Rav!” they’d announce. I recall them sitting at the dining room table, sometimes in silence, giving chizuk to my grandfather and more importantly, my grandmother, and reminding us all that the “fragments of the broken Luchos were placed in the Aron next to the Luchos,” i.e., that an adam gadol has enduring intrinsic value.
Teach ’Em to Tackle the Thoughts [Family Reflections / Issue 825]
I just wanted to piggyback onto Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s article, Big Feelings. She so aptly speaks of the need to validate emotions, while encouraging kids to express them in a way they can be heard best.
Additionally, maybe we can help with strong feelings in another way when applicable.
We’ve become so anxious to validate feelings that we’ve forgotten another important tool to teach our children (and ourselves!). Feelings come from thoughts, and regardless of how deeply the feeling is felt, the thought it’s based on may not be accurate, and recognizing that would make the feeling feel a lot different. So once we validate the feeling we hear or experience, maybe helping children hear the thought behind it would empower them to make a shift on their own.
Here’s an example:
Child: Mommy! I hate this supper! You never make anything I like! It’s so unfair!
Mother: Wow. I hear. You don’t feel I take you into account when I plan what to make for supper. That’s tough. Just wondering, honey... were you okay with the meatballs and spaghetti last night? I thought you sort of liked that.
Child: Yeah... that’s my favorite.
Mother: Got it. So I guess supper is sometimes what you like and sometimes it’s not. Let’s plan what to do when supper is something you’re not happy about.
We’re a generation that takes feelings very seriously. And that means we’ve come a long way! Finding the balance, though, between sheer validation and learning to gauge feelings and temper them with a reality check, might be a good way to balance or even challenge some of our initial thoughts and in turn dial down some feelings.
One young woman described her work on feelings so beautifully. She saw herself as a cup of water, her thoughts as tea bags, and the ensuing feelings as the taste of the tea in her cup. “I was sick of what my tea tasted like. Then it hit me! I’m not stuck with ginger once I realize I really want cinnamon!” The power of letting go of a thought and allowing room for another is such a phenomenal tool for life.
Chani Juravel LCSW
Spring Valley, NY
My Home Isn’t Broken [Home Again / Issue 825]
When I saw your cover featuring an article about the four components of a successful second marriage entitled “Home Again,” I felt a pang. The insinuation came through clearly — if you’re married/remarried, you have a home. And if you’re not, then…?
We hear the term “broken home” as a reference to divorce. How many single-parent families do we know who lead a beautiful, solid, nurturing home? Many. How many “intact,” two-parent families do we know that are dysfunctional? Quite a few.
I take offense at anyone telling me my home is broken. I know how much I put in to ensuring the physical and emotional well-being of my family. A marriage may be broken, but a home — not necessarily.
Marital status doesn’t necessarily reflect the designation of a “home.” If we want our communities to value a person for who they are, we need to stop designating only married parents as having a true home.
Blending a Family Takes Effort [Home Again / Issue 825]
We’re the model blended family: 21 combined siblings. And all of us show up at each other’s simchahs and smile.
But this is what I want you to know: It’s hard work. Hard work on our individual part, on our parents’ part, and as a family unit.
I know we make it look easy and seamless — sometimes I feel we’re on stage — but it’s not. Someone was telling me about the hardship she was having as a daughter-in-law with a new stepmother-in-law, and she said, “Bet those things don’t come up by you.”
They sure do!
We’ve made a conscious choice to get along at all costs, and I give a lot of credit to my father and his wife. It’s also very much to the credit of each child and their spouse. We make efforts to attend our stepsiblings’ simchahs, and we get together as a huge family for one Shabbos each year and take the time to check in with each other.
Will we ever be siblings? Nope. But with lots of effort, we can be friends.
Come Back Later [Home Again/Issue 825]
I appreciated reading the article about remarriage. My mother a”h passed away four months ago, after a five-year illness. My father has already gone out with two women.
Who are these women?
How is it not a red flag to you that four months after a death he feels ready to remarry?
He may tell you it’s because my mother was sick for years, so he had a slow loss…but he was very much the devoted husband and connected to her until four months ago. He loved my mother and his heart is so broken and he wants someone to fix it. He is looking to these women to come in and do that. I’m watching helplessly as an adult daughter and there is nothing I can do because his rav, siblings, and friends are all pushing him to get remarried…
I hope your article makes women think twice about this sort of man and gently tell him to take some time and come back later.
A Worried Daughter
Do We Yearn for Yerushalayim? [Within My Walls / Serials]
Reading Leah Gebber’s incredible serial is the highlight of my Shabbos. Rarely do I get to dive into the past and be enriched by the eloquence of such powerful writing.... The description of the sacrifice, sweat, and tears that went into building the walls, the yearning for the Geulah, and the pure faith that Mashiach will come riding through the gates at any moment....
I have the special opportunity to live in Yerushalayim, and I treasure my weekly Motzaei Shabbos trip to the Kosel. This week in particular, driving past the walls of Shaar Yaffo, I got chills. I couldn’t help but wonder, do we long and believe with the same effort and passion? Can we add one more prayer to the pile of prayers those before us prayed? Can we build a wall of love, acceptance, and kindness? Can we be the ones to finally, finally, complete this exile and rejoice with our predecessors in the glorious Final Redemption? We can.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 827)
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