I am obese, and I feel very unattractive. I am in the process of losing weight, but of course it will not come off overnight. I have a successful career in journalism, and I am a managing editor of a weekly African-American newspaper. I would love to start to interview people for the paper and branch out more--but I feel as though I'm not "pretty" enough to do this. How can I face a celebrity looking this way?
I am still young enough to enjoy my life--and I want to. My husband loves me regardless of my weight, and so do my friends. But every time I see images on TV of beautiful women and with men fawning all over them--I feel so bad. Off and on, I feel like crying, sad that I will never be the pretty girl I was.
Rabbi, I don't want to pity myself, I just want to live my life to the fullest until I lose the weight I need to lose.
I went to an affair recently with my friends and some men who complimented them treated me like I was invisible. How can I feel better about myself?
--Teri in Philly
You sure sound like a beautiful person. What a shame that you have allowed the transient and superficial standards of a shallow culture to undermine your self-esteem and make you feel like you are less than other women.
Firstly, let's accept that only in this age of TV and magazines--the visual age--has thin become "in." In generations past, thin women were considered to be unattractive and undernourished. Back when men made love with their hands, rather than eyes, meat was neat. Which makes a lot of sense when you consider that logically it's a lot more pleasurable to make love to soft, supple flesh than to a bag of bones and a rib cage. But television, which reduces everything to lines and geometric shapes, created the modern, linear woman, who looks like an emaciated scarecrow but is still considered attractive.
In the final analysis, Teri, beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, but is especially in the mind of the holder. If you think you're beautiful, then you'll carry yourself as beautiful. You'll move in a way that makes you look beautiful. And you'll dress in a way that makes you look beautiful. What I'm saying is that the only person to whom you are ugly is yourself. But having diminished yourself in your own eyes, you are also diminishing yourself in others' eyes. Hence, it's possible that those men at the party did not compliment you because they saw that any compliment would make you incredulous and uncomfortable. They might have read your body language as saying, "I'm not worth complimenting."
This does not mean that I would advise you against losing weight. On the contrary, I strongly advise you to lose weight, not for other people, but for yourself. The fact is that obesity is unhealthy and restricting. You can't be as active as you might like, and yes, you will look better when you're not obese. Like the extreme thinness that today is considered attractive, obesity is an extreme. Both are unappealing. So lose weight, but don't go to an extreme. In life, as the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides counseled, we should stay away from all extremes.
But the real question you have to ask yourself is why you are so insecure about your looks and about yourself. The answer cannot be that you are overweight, because if that were the only factor then you would see yourself as a pretty woman who is imperfect, rather than as a highly imperfect woman who was once pretty. I don't know the answer to that question, but often deep insecurity results from a feeling of not having found one's purpose. If your purpose in life is to reciprocate the love shown to you by your husband and friends, and to build your publication into an important moral voice that both informs and inspires, then go ahead and do those things courageously. Don't worry about how others perceive you. Do the right thing whatever the consequences, and slowly but surely your confidence will return to you and you'll feel both beautiful and special. And while all that happens, of course, watch what you eat and make sure to exercise daily.