Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Love Yourself as Your Neighbor?

In my Bible class the other day, my friend Julia said something so profound based on our chevrutah study of Leviticus. She was talking about the line, "Love your neighbor as yourself" and mentioned that in order to love your neighbor, you must also love yourself.

The concept sounds simple, I know, but it really struck me and I've been thinking about it all week long.

How many of us love ourselves the way we love our neighbors? Maybe in Biblical times, it was easy to love yourself, as there were no shiny magazines, no billboards, no TV ads showing what the perfect person is supposed to look like. We, however, live in a society that lives and breathes appearances and, whether we like it or not, we constantly compare ourselves to the models on the pages and the seemingly perfect people who dwell among us.

For the first time in a long time, I stood naked in front of my full length mirror yesterday. I stared at my body for a long time, trying to find one thing from the neck down that I could be proud of. I started at my feet, my long, wide feet that make it impossible to find cute shoes. I worked my way up to my calves, my "Fishbein" calves that are muscular and strong, however unfeminine they may be. My thighs have always been a source of terror to me, as has my stomach and my "inner tube" the roll of fat above my stomach created from wearing too many pairs of jeans that I had to squeeze into for so many years. My breasts that are saggy and unsexy from gaining and losing so much weight over the years (they're the one thing I would have surgically redone had I the money, time, or guts...as opposed as I may be to plastic surgery, I'd be willing to bend for some new boobs...and I am 110% serious about that.) My hands, masculine and rough but strong and durable, and my pretty forearms connected to wobbly upper-arms that won't go away no matter how many push-ups I do. My shoulders, stretch marked and freckled from too much sun in Tel Aviv last year.

From the neck up, I'm kind of a babe.

But how can I look at the rest of my body and see only uglyness?
How can I expect someone else to love my body if I don't love the appearance of my own body? How can I look at someone else and see only beauty if I can't see only beauty in myself?
How can I expect a man to be attracted to me, with clothes or without clothes, if I'm not attracted to myself?

I know that on the inside, my body is a beautiful miracle of creation. I am lucky that all of my insides work exactly as they should to support me and sustain my journey. I am also lucky to realize the gifts my body provides for me everyday; the gift of singing, of walking and talking, breathing, digesting food, laughing, etc.

But will I ever be able to see my outsides as anything but mounds of wrinkled flesh and stretch marks?
Will I ever get to a point where I can look at my body on the outside and simply appreciate the scrapbook of memories those wrinkles and stretch marks provide?
And will someone else be able to see and appreciate my body's journey before I am able to?

Is dating pointless if I'm not able to love myself enough?
Is it possible to be able to love your neighbor as yourself if you look at yourself and aren't in love?

In this day in age, at least for some of us, is it maybe more correct for God to command us to 'Love Yourself As Your Neighbor'?

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