The concept of Betzelem Elohim—that we are each created in the image of sacred divinity and worthy of honor—has become one of my favorites, perhaps because it always eluded me in the past. As of now, more of my life has been spent under the vice-like grip of eating disorders than not: A combination of extreme body dysmorphia coupled with low self-esteem kept me running on the hamster wheel of anorexia and orthorexia.
Still, I have always been self-aware, and I knew I had a problem. I tried to fight back by taping up inspiring notes around my room. I discovered how much of our unattainable beauty standards are only possible through Photoshop. I began to analyze the messaging in how women are physically portrayed on billboards and in movies. But one of the most influential actions I took in my battle for a sound sense of self was finding role models in the body positive movement. Never did I imagine that this simple action would lead me not only to respect the concept of Betzelem Elohim, but to exalt my body with a blessing.
Even as a young millennial, when I was a teen, there were maybe a handful of body positive figures in the public spotlight, like Ashley Graham, Tessa Holliday, and Candice Huffhine. (The body positive movement was actually founded by black women, but naturally, none of them had as much public recognition as their white counterparts back then—an issue that persists today.) This handful of women was basically all we had; everything else we saw in the media reinforced the ideals of toxic, misogynistic beauty as a societal priority. It should be specified that this viewpoint still very much exists and dominates; however, women and those in female-coded bodies have begun to take back the narrative, and thus, our power. That handful of body positive women from more than a decade ago has paved the way for thousands upon thousands more.
I’ve always made a point to follow some body positive women, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s become even more of a focal point for me. Social media can be extremely toxic if not wielded properly, and so a few years ago, I stopped following anyone who espoused unhealthy body values and instead began to fill my social-media feed with numerous body positive women who celebrate the different body shapes and sizes in which they live. This is such an amazing way that social media can work for you; it became the norm for me to see a variety of empowered women living vivaciously in bodies that fell outside our society’s narrow, misogynistic view of what’s “acceptable.” I cannot express strongly enough how powerful the simple act of exposing yourself to this kind of content on a daily basis truly is. It doesn’t magically fix every single issue you’ve been brainwashed to feel about your body image, but it does create a safe space for you to begin to heal.
In fact, the simple action of following dozens of diverse, empowered bodies was so healing that it influenced how I responded to a change in my own body: the advent of cellulite. I was in my late 20s the first time I glanced across the room in the mirror and noticed cellulite on my upper legs and thighs. In the past, this would have been an icy stab in the heart—a pin that deflated my sense of self-worth with a pop, like a balloon burst with startling suddenness. But I had been following women on Instagram who had openly shown and celebrated their cellulite for long enough that it had taught me how to view it. I knew that cellulite was a normal, natural part of owning a body, and incredibly common in women and women-coded individuals, regardless of weight or shape. When I saw my own cellulite appear, it was through a lens of gentle fascination. I didn’t feel self-conscious because I’d learned that cellulite is normal and natural. I observed my own reaction and was in awe of how greatly and beautifully it contrasted my past relationship with my body.
This moment was awe-striking in a way that deserved recognition. In Judaism, there is a blessing one can say to acknowledge something noteworthy and special in their life. It can be an experience, such as trying a new fruit or lighting The holiday which celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following its conquest by the Syrians in 165 BCE. The holiday is celebrated by lighting candles in a hanukiyah oon each of eight nights. Other customs include the eating of fried foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts), playing dreidl (a gambling game with a spinning top), and, in present day America, gift giving. candles for the first time that year. It can also be said over special new possessions, like a high-quality pair of shoes or new tefillin. The blessing is the Shehekheyanu, and it helps us be mindful of moments in our life that are worth pausing for, if only for a brief moment, and celebrating before we continue along our relentless pursuit of everything outside the present moment. The cellulite moment, for me, was incongruously earth-shattering in the quietest, simplest way possible. I stood in front of the mirror and as I gazed at my cellulite, I whispered to myself: Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, shehekheyanu v’kiyamunu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh. My dear body had brought me to this moment after a decade-plus of healing, and it was worth celebrating both the moment and my body itself.
A Body Positive Ritual
You can adapt this as needed to fit your own body journey needs!
1. Stand in front of a mirror (the larger, the better).
2. Uncover and gaze at a part of your body that has changed and deserves celebrating.
3. Reflect: What has my body carried me through that resulted in this change? Life adventures, health issues, getting older and wiser, bearing children, loss, stress, joy, etc.?
4. Touch that area of your body softly; explore it with kind curiosity.
5. Tell yourself and your body: I am enough. My body is Betzelem Elohim, created in the image of Divine sacredness. I am an empowered soul in an incredible physical body. Thank you, body, for allowing me to exist in this tangible journey of life.
6. Deeply inhale and exhale a few times.
7. As you continue to gaze at this special part of your body, say Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, shehekheyanu v’kiyamunu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.
8. Take as many quiet moments as you need with your body.
9. When you are ready to finish, wrap yourself in a generous self-hug and smile at yourself in the mirror, meeting your own eyes.
10. Continue your day knowing how worthy, sacred, and miraculous your body and soul are.