Dear Rachel,

I am a large woman (about 50 pounds overweight). As a young girl, I was always pleasantly plump, but after having a few children and getting older, I gained even more weight. I feel frequently discriminated against because of my weight. And I have been the victim of weight-shaming.

Recently, I had a procedure in the hospital and needed to fast. When the procedure was I feel frequently discriminated against because of my weightdelayed and I told the nurse I hadn’t eaten in 36 hours, he said: “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you to lose a few pounds.”

I was humiliated! Many people look at fat as something repugnant. And in this predominant youth-centered and thin-focused culture, I’m often made to feel substandard because I’m not svelte. Of course, I want to lose the weight in order to feel better, but it’s hard. Why should I be punished because I don’t weigh in at the “right” weight?

Feeling Weighed Down

Dear More of You to Love,

The “right” weight regarding appearance and health has been a matter of style forever. And it has been for many centuries longer than otherwise that being slightly padded was considered to be both more beautiful and healthier than being slim.

There is way too much emphasis put on people’s looks these days, and even more so on their weight. That’s both unfair and unwise. No one puts someone’s weight on their epitaph. It’s a superficial detail, like the color of your eyes or your height. You are as attractive as you believe yourself to be—as warm as your hug and as winning as your smile.

Eating, enjoying food, blessing food and celebrating with food is part of our service to G‑d. It was a major part of the Temple service. We cannot view food, an essential part of survival and mitzvah observance, as the enemy.

Shaming is definitely a sin against the Torah. It says, “Do not embarrass someone in public. The word used for embarrassment is lehalbin panim, or “to make the face go white” because when someone is embarrassed, the color drains from their face. This is such a serious sin that it is linked to the commandment “Thou shalt not commit murder.” Embarrassing someone is like spilling their blood. We are equally forbidden from judging others.

It’s important before you worry about anyone else for you to feel good in your own skin. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” The Torah tells us to love others as we love ourselves, but to do this, we have to love ourselves. That’s a Torah directive. Even with our flaws, our whole selves. I’m guessing that if you accept yourself the way you are, others will be more inclined to do so as well.

Beauty, personality and good health come in all shapes and sizes. The variety of human form is one of the things that make us interesting and distinguishable from one another. It is true that we live in a world where the media dictates a lot of what beauty is or supposed to be. But the Jewish people don’t let the media or trends or style define us. We value the pnimiyut of a person—his or her inner self.

Torah sources talk very little about a woman’s body and very much about

Beauty, personality and good health come in all shapes and sizes

her dress: “whose raiment is of gold settings—in embroidered apparel she will be brought to the king” (Psalms 45). “Strength and majesty are her raiment” (Proverbs 31). The laws of modesty stress de-accentuating the physical and emphasizing the spiritual in a woman. It’s not that her body is bad; it’s that she is so much more—her soul, her heart, her mind. The stress of Western culture on the physical originated in ancient Greece and still permeates our world today Jews value the spiritual. A Jewish person’s life’s work is to connect to G‑d by doing His mitzvot. Dress size is so irrelevant!

The Torah, however, has another mitzvah, and that is guarding one’s health. Being extremely overweight is not healthy, and obesity can lead to other health problems. I would suggest that you make sure not to gain more weight. You should make an effort, for the sake of your health, to lose weight, but no one has a right to judge you anymore than if you were dealing with another health issue, like kidney stones or high blood pressure. And certainly, certainly, no one should shame you.

Wishing you good health, and that you recognize your true beauty as a daughter of G‑d.