Belly Girl

In recent parshiot, we honored some of our Torah heroes; Moshe, Aaron, Yehoshua, and Kalev. Concurrently, other folks celebrated cartoon champions including DC’s Batman, Superman, and Aquaman, and Marvel’s Wolverine, Doctor Strange, and Black Panther. “Heroes,” it appears, are not necessarily individuals who are physically strong, but people who manifest courage when confronting adversity.

Nonetheless, I was surprised when my gal pals suggested that I’m a hero. More exactly, they lauded my “superpower” of not fretting about wearing elastic waistbands.

Those ladies witnessed my aptitude for standing strong in the face of flourishing consumerism. They knew that I shun cosmetics, plastic surgery, plus any fad or fashion that requires me to act outside of my wheelhouse, or otherwise become uneasy, just to conform. Sure, I agreed to wear a sheitel, not a snood, when my older daughter was a kallah and wanted a certain “look” for her wedding album (I embraced the mitzvah of making a kallah happy). However, when downsizing my apartment a few years ago, I readily tossed or gave away  accessories, makeup, and the like.

“Style” is a strange continuum. Yours Truly, for reasons including ease and utility, wears skirts, dresses, jumpers and gowns whose waist cloth is formed by a fold down casing. I’ve long since aged out of snaps, clasps, buttons, and zippers.

Granted, when I was decades younger, elastic was reserved for the latter months of pregnancy and, maybe, for a few months thereafter. My duds were fitted; I highlighted my waist.

These days, contrariwise, it’s bother enough, for me, to line up garments’ seams such that any pattern printed thereon makes visual sense. Besides, I’ve gained a bit of…spread.

I could blame the multiple injuries that left me unable to exercise for more than a year. I could hold COVID-induced community-wide restrictions accountable. I could point out how gyms and pools were inconvenient destinations for a long time. Nevertheless, all of those statements remain untrue.

Lifelong, I’ve liked moving my body. I was an avid cyclist (think Schwinn Girls’ bike, three gears, circa 1970s), a devoted swimmer (an hour of laps each session, even when preggers), a martial artist (until I got preggers), a jogger, and, for the longest span, a gal who liked weightlifting and using elliptical bikes.

Consequently, dear ones seemed mystified about my “unexplainable” quantity of adipose tissue…until an Israeli nutritionist, i.e., a rather direct woman, suggested it was not what I eat (after all, I’m an herbalist who knows foods’ “values”) but how much (oops). That is, the once somewhat lithe me was no longer supple, limber, or lissome—I was corpulent.

Let’s not confuse the dangling of bits and bobs that occurs when ligaments wear (or tear) from decades of use. Likewise, being muscular is not equivalent to being podgy. Usually, matters of fleshiness refer to excess calorie intake. In my case, my challenge is not counting reps or sets, but “The Battle of the Bulge.”

At any rate, whether a missus is fat or thin, attire, here, is unlike that found in the shops of the affluent nations of diaspora. More specifically, upon making aliyah, I was shocked to discover that the female members of my kehillah wore synthetics that were secured by strips of material, which were intended to return to their original shape after being stretched—most of the doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, etc. of my acquaintance wore elastic!

Comparatively, my New World cohorts wore wool or cotton. Rarely did they deck themselves with acrylics or with clothes blended from animal or plant fibers and synthetic threads. Even so, as wardrobe expenditures reflect the availability of products, and as the USA was and remains a prized destination for exports, deals on gear were and continue to be available, there.

In Israel, in contrast, many racks are stocked with low quality items. Fewer manufacturers compete for shekels than dollars. Also, until the Abraham Accords were actualized, Israel was an economic island. Viz., sending goods overland was prohibitively expensive as well as risky. Accordingly, merchandise was nearly always flown here despite the fact that using airplanes costs more than using camel or vehicular caravans.

Personal resolve and local economic factors notwithstanding, many Sabras still renounce apparel that allows for small variations in fit and that is easy to put on/pull off. Altogether, most Israelis are not refrigerators, I mean, Americans. Whether it’s from adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet or frank poverty, most denizens, here, eat less quality food and eat a smaller quantity of any food than do their New World counterparts (sadly, increasing globalization has delivered junk food, diabetes, and heart disease to Israel.)

When my family first arrived, a cab driver cackled at us. Not only did he try to overcharge us, assuming all Anglos are freierim, but he made sad jokes about North Americans. “Refrigerators,” he guffawed.

“When I deboarded the plane in New York,  I saw walking refrigerators.”

I might have become a gentrified appliance, but I’ve not yet returned to New York. Also, I try not to be a freier.

On balance, it behooves Israeli me to mind (the measure of) my peas and kumquats and to disregard all the snide remarks that are made about the comfortable raiments that I elect to wear. If that makes me a hero, then you, too, can call me “Belly Girl.”

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.