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Learning to Love Yourself

Learning to Love Yourself

Bringing Passover into the Rest of the Year

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“I don’t understand women,” my friend’s brother said with conviction. His blue eyes grew bright with passion. “No matter how many times I tell my sister she is beautiful, she never believes me. She always needs me to reassure her! Why doesn’t she see what I see?”

My friend was indeed conventionally beautiful. By anyone’s measure. If she was insecure, what did that mean for the rest of us?

His question was left unanswered. He touched on the constant battle millions of women face every day. In the struggle to be beautiful, we seek permission to be loved. We have a need to be loved for our beauty as well as for who we are as people. We want both. How do we achieve it?

If she was insecure, what did that mean for the rest of us?

It begins with freedom. We want to be free to be beautiful, free to be loved. On Passover we celebrated our freedom from Egypt. The word for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, which can also be read as maytzarim, meaning “boundaries” or “limitations.” Leaving Egypt was only the beginning of the journey. Freedom is not the goal. It is, however, a necessary tool to achieving the goal of having a relationship.

The Jewish definition of freedom is not that you are able to do whatever you want. Freedom is the ability to be able to reach your potential. We needed freedom because it was the first step to building a relationship with G‑d. In order to have a good relationship with someone, we need to first be able to choose them. In order to have a better relationship with ourselves and embrace our own beauty, we must first free ourselves from one of our biggest obstacles: comparisons. When we learn to love ourselves, we allow room for others to love us.

In modern-day society, it is not always easy to be a woman. We are surrounded by billboards, magazines and actors that form not only our definition, but the world’s definition, of what is beautiful. Blame it on consumerism, but there’s always some product out there that we need to buy in order to “improve” our looks. Sadly, the message we are given is that we are not enough.

The dilemma may not be such a modern-day phenomenon. Today we complain that airbrushing a picture gives women unrealistic expectations of what they should look like. While that is true, it’s an old problem.

In regards to external beauty, women have always been confined. Take the corset, for example. It gave the Victorian woman a petite yet unnatural waistline. It was so tight that it actually affected the health of the women who wore it. Unlike modern corsets, these contraptions were made out of steel! The result was that everyone was trying to literally fit into an ideal that no woman could reach on her own.

When we discarded the corset, department stores started to emerge. Before this time, women had their garments fitted. Throwing away the corset did not make us free. We were still enslaved to the corseted waistline. The idea remained that in order to be beautiful, we had to fit into an external definition of beauty. Beauty was not something that could be constructed around us.

We don’t have to be enslaved to the beauty industry! The solution involves knowing what to take into ourselves and what to let go of.

On Passover, we had two commandments involving what we consume. One was the negative commandment not to eat leavened bread, or chametz. The other was a positive commandment to eat matzah, unleavened bread. On the days following Passover, these ideas are worth reviewing, because they are the foundation of what we must build on.

Chametz symbolizes ego. Ego is anything holding us back from becoming the best person we can be. In regards to eating, chametz personalities see food as a vehicle to control their lives instead of nutrients to enrich their bodies. Ironically, food controls them.

Chametz is the corset of life. Chametz is low self-esteem. Chametz is the impossible size that no one really wears, but which society defines as perfection. Chametz is the thin girl who throws up at night because she was fat as a child. Chametz is the woman who goes to restaurants and picks at her salad because she is afraid to eat. Chametz is saying, “She’s pretty, and so I am not.” It is the constant pressure to be glamorous, and never a reminder of what we should really be: beautiful.

The problem is defining ourselves so much by the way our bodies look that we forget that we are also souls

When you are in a chametz state of mind, you are trying to fit into something you are not. You are trying to be someone else’s definition of perfection. As conveyed with the corset, this type of lifestyle is not only uncomfortable, confining and unrealistic, but in the long run, very unhealthy. The problem is defining ourselves so much by the way our bodies look that we forget that we are also souls. That’s where matzah comes in.

Matzah represents freedom and humility. Humility is the key ingredient to being a free woman.

In order to be humble, we have to take away the extra fluff of life. We can’t be distracted by the physical beauty of others. We also can’t focus solely on our own physicality. We must balance perfecting our bodies with also perfecting our minds and our souls. We must realize that these components are uniquely ours, and that is what makes them special.

Matzah represents a healthy, ideal person. Although she learns from others, she is not in competition with them. Of course, she does work on her physical beauty, but she realizes that the beauty that is inside her also needs to be cultivated. Her motto is that image is indeed important, but even more important is spirit.

A matzah personality is beautiful, because she is being the best woman she can be without trying to be someone she is not. She knows she’s not “perfect.” She embraces her flaws. When she looks in the mirror, she sees what is beautiful. She is authentic. There’s something different about her. She works on making herself beautiful inside and out, in a healthy way. She dresses modestly because she respects her body, not because she has anything to hide. She wants you to see her inner beauty and not to be distracted by the outside. Her physical beauty is enhanced by the inner beauty that shines through. Most importantly, when she’s loved, she’s loved because of who she is, and not for whom she is trying to be.

Passover should have taught us to be free; but then, what do we do with that freedom? The days between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot, the day we received the Torah, are the next step. These are the days of the Omer. Once we are free to choose to have a relationship, we must work on building it. Matzah represents the entrance into this period.

Each day during the Omer, we work on a different aspect of ourselves. Our focus is no longer on the size of our dress, but on how it looks on us. When we realize that our true power lies in cultivating our unique traits, we must ask ourselves how we can achieve our potential, and then follow through. Once we work on perfecting ourselves, we are ready to have a real, loving and secure relationship, where we are loved for our unique beauty. This is the only beauty we can believe in wholeheartedly, because it is real and our own.

As we approach Shavuot, let’s work on developing what is special about us, so that we can offer it to ourselves, to the world and to G‑d.

Samantha Barnett is a writer. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
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Discussion (15)
April 4, 2014
Thank you. Honestly, people get tired of hearing oneself complain about their flaws, I mean, my cousin he's like , " I'm trying to help, but I cant make you believe what you really are until you convince yourself." We are really our only judges. Now, i'm 15 so I still struggle with things myself. But all I can think is, when I complain about myself, i am not only complaing about myself, but I am complaining about H-shem's creation. That is helping me to think, " The Holy One, blessed is HE, never makes trash."
Jubilee
Bell,Cali
April 4, 2013
So important.....
Such an important article when we are constantly 'bombarded' with body images
we are suppose to live up to.............I am learning to value my inner-self and ignore
the popular media fixation with 'body image'...........
Marsha Wall
Wisconsin
April 12, 2012
monsters
I think the sheltering has to take the form of counteraction ie: at every opportunity give reassurance about true beauty. Also a comment shared about how weak these monsters really are.
Sarah
Melbourne, Australia
April 11, 2012
Thank you
After years of being told I am not pretty and I will amount to nothing I am, at the tender age of 43, allowing myself to believe I am beautiful.

I can prevent passing on my childhood to my daughter, but how do you shelter a child from the monsters of so called beauty that lurks on every billboard and magazine cover ?
Anonymous
Abotts Ripton, United Kingdom
April 9, 2012
Defeat it and something else will appear
The economy is driven by excess, by stimulating demand for things people do not really NEED, only want. Take that concept away and unemployment would be massive. IE just imagine if everyone only bought what they needed according to a late 1800's Lower East Side standard.
Now, if and when women succeed in laying to rest the monstrosity called the beauty industry; what next? Perhaps the industry moguls will target their advertising at men next. Don't laugh, it could happen, think back to the male foppishness in vogue in the late 1700's. Still, I admit it ain't gonna happen anytime soon. Best wishes.
R Narz
Saskatoon
May 12, 2011
Thank You!
This is a beautiful article! I have always struggled with this since childhood. I grew up being told I was not pretty enough, thin enough or good enough for anything. Now that I have a young daughter I so want to love myself so I can teach her the same. How can I begin do break through over 40 years of poor self esteem and self doubt?
Rita
Grenada, MS, USA
May 2, 2011
love the article!!!
i love and enjoyed the article. its on target and very well written
Anonymous
montreal
April 29, 2011
350-some odd days - plus
It is on target, but there is more ... there always is with HaShem. It is His Word, not chametz that we live by - every single day. He provides special times of focus and remembering, but the lesson is continuous. On a different aspect, I enjoyed reading this article because I had just been thinking along exactly the same lines but in relation to the beauty of my music, playing the violin. I used to be so inhibited because I was extremely worred by comparisons. It killed my music except when I was playing alone and then I would be unsure if I could really play or not - maybe it was just my imagination making up for my lack of ability. And so I would go to my lesson and freeze-up in utter fear. Now, I am free, I am free to play, free to express my unique appreciation of the beauty of G-d. No-one else can do that for me, I have to do it, and it is freedom to a rainbow!
Sarah
Melbourne, Aust
April 29, 2011
unfortunately
unfortunately woman have been treated poorly from the beginning even as far as Adam and Eva and is rumored to put man on the track of ego within himself.
it seems not only do woman have the same problems when dealing with ego but added to thier troubles the mans persecution and burdens for creating the mans troubles which piles on the self worth origination.
i agree with the author that freedom is the key but in all reality woman have only been free to choose for 40-50 years and have a long history of subservant lifestyle and if one did speak her mind or live with freedom she would be condemned or shamed.
i believe some woman are now going to the extreme to prove their freedoms and maybe to prove to themselves that maybe a man is not only not wanted but also not needed in their life to pursue these freedoms of society.
i figure it will take another 100 years for woman to get it out of thier system considering they have had centuries of physical and mental slavery. Hashem is the key
john smith
fort lauderdale, fl
April 29, 2011
an important lesson
as I watch my daughter spend too long getting ready for high school, and applying eye make-up daily to her already beautiful eyes, I think your message is important for women of all ages, teens and up. It is a constant struggle to accept an aging body, working on ideal weight and muscle tone, in addition to growing spiritually through classes (especially Chabad JLI)
Chana
marblehead, MA/USA
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