Appearances or True Health
What do you value more?
Are you motivated more by how you look or how you feel?
Are you driven by how others perceive you or by your own self-perception?
Is it more important to you to fit in or be accepted for who you are?
Do you feel like you’re playing a role or living according to your values?
Do you emphasize one aspect of yourself and neglect other aspects?
Is the outside more of a focus than the inside?
Our community often takes pop culture and social media to task for emphasizing appearances over substance. For worshipping the body and neglecting the soul. For creating a world of false images and pressure to be like everyone else.
I’m not convinced we are doing a whole lot better.
Sure we have a value structure that in its purest form should make us better people. Better to ourselves. Better to our loved ones. Better for the world.
But that’s not the whole picture of what’s happening.
And while it’s easy to blame the world around us for what has seeped into our community, we have grabbed the baton and run with it in our own way.
Authenticity and Belonging
Every person has a unique purpose and a unique soul, the expression of which is meant to differ person to person. There were 12 tribes of Jacob, not one, each with their own strengths and challenges and a purpose in line with those character traits. Our sages say there are 70 faces of spiritual expression, not one.
So when did uniformity become our greatest value?
God sees and engages with us as individuals. He doesn’t want or expect us to be anyone but our best selves. If we want to emulate God, we have to do the same. Shame and judgement will never make anyone a happier or healthier person. We need to make room for everyone to sit comfortably at the table of life.
Unfortunately, for reasons unclear to me (fear?), we have made the road very narrow for people to walk on if they want to feel accepted by the community. So even if someone keeps up appearances on the outside, they may be experiencing significant cognitive dissonance on the inside. They have to choose between fitting in and living authentically. And that’s a painful place to be. It is a deep human need to be seen and accepted and if we deny people that, rest assured they will find it elsewhere.
This is especially critical with our children. It is a dangerous game to force them into a box for our own need to fit in rather than engage with them as the unique souls that they are.
Looking Good vs Feeling Good
There is nothing wrong with looking good. It feels good to look good. But we are confused in this area as well. For women and girls in particular, we too place heavy emphasis on appearances. I recently walked into a wig store in New Jersey with high-vaulted ceilings, mirror-and-glass consult rooms, chic furniture – literally an ode to beauty. On the wall was a three-dimensional placard that spanned the length of the wall saying “Let your hair speak for you.”
What message is that giving?
And is that message consistent with the other messages we give in terms of religious values?
While beauty rides high on our priority list, real health is downplayed or even discouraged.
I’ve been a runner my whole life. It is my space, my sanity, my joy and my freedom. When I first moved to Passaic, NJ in 2000, it was so unusual to see a woman running, that people would look behind me to see who was chasing me (not kidding). One woman approached me and told me that the community leaders frown upon women running and maybe I should consider walking as its more modest. Once I got over my disbelief (on multiple levels), I thanked her for her advice that I wouldn’t be taking and continued my run. Why would I give up a self-care practice that benefits my mind, body and soul? Her comment only fueled my drive to inoculate the community with the value of physical movement.
I subsequently heard the same idea from a number of my personal training clients along with the list of sports that children were not allowed to participate in.
What is the endgame?
Where do the individual needs of a child play in to this schematic?And what are we replacing those healthy outlets with?
One of our top choices as a replacement for healthy activity seems to be low quality, high volume food. It’s everywhere – at every event, in schools and in many of our homes. Couple that with our sedentary lifestyle which starts at early ages, continues through school years and into adulthood, and we have a perfect breeding ground for a host of physical and mental illnesses.
We are valuing beauty but not health.
We are giving mixed messages.
That’s a problem
What’s the answer?
- Accept yourself. It is much easier to accept others when you accept yourself. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to grow or improve. It means you are real with who you are and what you need to be your best self in all aspects – body, mind, and soul.
- Get in touch with what recharges your spiritual battery and what drains it? How can you get more of what recharges you into your daily spiritual practice?
- Connect daily with your body. How does your body feel today? What is one thing you can do today to improve your health?
- Live with purpose. You have a contribution to the world that only you can make. When you live from a place of purpose, superficial pressures fall away and leave clarity and direction in its place.
- Accustom yourself to first asking what you think is good and right for you (and your family) before you consider what others might expect from you.
- Know that you don’t know anyone else’s potential or soul purpose or what God expects from them. Stay in your lane and focus on what makes you better.