Your recent piece responded strongly to media speculation about the “puffiness of your face” and broadened that to include the “assault on our [women’s and girls’] body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification.” Further, you conclude that this is the very antithesis of feminism, and is most disturbingly a patriarchy that includes women as well – as the aggressors.
My heart broke when I read your article. Not because you’re wrong, and not because your piece wasn’t intelligent and articulate, but because there is so much work to do in enlightening the world about the truths you mention.
See, Ashley, in a funny way you and I are in the same business. I’ll sidestep the entertainment industry because, well, I’m not in it, though I did dream of being a famous actress long ago. And also because it so complicates your message. You yourself allude to this:
“I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a
creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my
public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of
highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another
Distorted, yes. But the entertainment industry is distorted to begin with – it deliberately presents a distorted image of life to entertain and, sometimes, educate.
The business we share is education. You seek to educate the public about body image, misogyny, and feminism. Allow me to share your mission by shedding some Jewish wisdom on the conversation, as you invite us to join it at the end of your moving and passionate piece.
1. The Hebrew word for face (panim) is etymologically linked to the word for internality (p’nim)? That’s because our faces reveal that which is on the insides of our souls. Not our skin tone or flaw scale, but our eyes, our smiles; the body language that speaks so loudly from our faces should others but care to hear the message.
2. Did you know that Jewish Bible tradition teaches that our patriarch (the irony of that title is not lost on me) Abraham was married to our matriarch Sarah for decades before it dawned on him that he was married to a physically beautiful woman? And even then, he only noticed because he was trying to determine if it was safe for them to travel openly through Egypt, a notoriously immoral country, and therefore attempted to see her through the eyes of the natives.
Do you know why, Ashley? Because, the tradition continues: Physical appearance meant nothing to him. Beauty was not just in the eye of the beholder, but for some of those beholders, purely spiritual in nature. This is MY hero. This is MY patriarch.
3. There are laws in Judaism about dissing other people? They’re called the laws of lashon hara – literally, evil speech. In fact, there are volumes, texts, and libraries about this. You can get a law a day via text or phone or email. My kids’ Jewish day schools have ongoing programs and learning sessions about it. There are entire video presentations and educational days about it.
Would you believe it’s one of the worst sins in Judaism ever? Did you know it includes dissing of public figures as well as unknown nobodies; dissing in print, in speech, with body language, or via text? To one person or a whole group? And online dissing is the worst because of the exponential damage. In fact, the Jewish Talmud goes so far as to state that the victim of the dissing earns the merits of all the good deeds that the perpetrator has achieved throughout his life to date.
I don’t know if you’re a religious person, Ashley, but you’ve gotta admit these are really powerful ideas. I’ll end with just one more.
4. Judaism teaches that we are both body and soul. We choose if we’d like to identify more with our bodies or more with our souls. The problem is that the world, as you’ve so articulately observed, chooses body so much more loudly and so much more often than soul. This is sad and unfortunate, but Ashley, I’m here to tell you that we can fight the fight. We can choose soul. The misogyny and the pettiness will never go away, because humans are flawed, but you and I can continue to be souls more than bodies. There’s a fine line between fighting the good fight and getting sucked into the drama.
Me? I’m not playing the game. I try to live and dress according to the Jewish codes of modesty, as do many other co-religious men and women. I limit the media exposure in my life. I strive to learn the Torah regularly to fortify myself with these truths. I seek out spiritual people who are choosing soul over body. I’m definitely far from perfect but that’s the fight worth fighting.
I hope you think so too.
Your fellow female non-misogynist soul,