KJ Hannah Greenberg

Body Positivity for Oldsters

Things change. Our bodies morph as we go through life. In our end chapters, often those differences include disabilities plus altered fat/muscle ratios.

When I was approximately thirteen and still secular, I modeled. At the time, which was the early 1970s, the ideal beauty had long, natural hair and a slim figure. As a preadolescent, I possessed those features. Most of what I exhibited were “samples,” i.e., were  the garments sold to vendors to be used as examples when they, in turn, sold merchandise to store owners; it was cheaper for salesmen to deck their models with their samples than to buy them new pieces.

A few years later, I weighed roughly the same, but my shape had transformed. Part of somatic maturity is the development of secondary sexual characteristics. While boys gave me increasing amounts of attention, I was no longer employable as a walking coat hanger for tops in single digit sizes.

Now, roughly fifty years later, my body looks and functions nothing like it did when I was a preteen or a teen. Although martial arts, swimming, jogging, and various machine-dependent exercises kept me in small or medium covers during my early adulthood, my body radically shifted once I became pregnant.

Four children later, I returned to my prepregnancy weight, but not to my prepregnancy proportions. Not only did I need to source a new wardrobe, but I also needed to find fresh self-acceptance.

Later, at 40, I became fully frum. One more, I needed to rethink my apparel. Once more, I gained weight. Once more, I needed to recalibrate my view of my fundamental attributes.

Unfortunately, in the last two and one half decades, I’ve continued, slowly, to gain even more weight. Additionally, in the last tens of years, I’ve suffered from a variety of back, knee, and ankle injuries. These days, my brake-pressing ankle is too weak for me to drive safely and others of my degrees of fleshly compromise prevent me from walking far, specifically, and from walking without hobbling, in general.

Sometimes, I abide by my physical therapist’s directions; sometimes, I do not. I’ve not been a gym rat in years since I can no longer use most of the equipment. Prior to COVID’s advent, nevertheless, I was still regularly swimming.

Appearance aside, the makeovers I’ve undergone have challenged my self-esteem. Driving and walking were autonomies that I had taken for granted. Likewise, household tasks and

intimacy seemed as though they would be sustained, in respective, single configurations, forever and ever (I had never anticipated my variances.)

Interestingly, these days, some models are plus-sized. Furthermore, among contemporary human fashion displayers are a rainbow of skin hues and a great array of hair types. Today’s exemplars, at times, are fit, strong and healthy. Other times, they are corporally challenged. They are tall and short, young and old, straight and otherwise. The fifteen year-old me and the thirty year-old me could model, today, if they had not become observant.

Fortunately, as an oldster, I no longer need to acquire validation from external points, viz., I don’t miss being a model. I do, however, continue struggling with fancying my form. Sure, in my morning prayers I recite gratitudes for sight, for ambulation, and more. Nonetheless, part of my brain is stuck in ultra-glam standards from fifty years ago. It doesn’t help me that some of the folks with whom I interact emphasize those values.

Whereas I supposed that wearing modest, clean, seasonal clothing ought to have sufficed, I’ve repeatedly been told otherwise. One associate spent over many years trying to get me to switch out my snoods for hats. An acquaintance offered, rather insistently, that she shop with me so I wouldn’t look frumpy. Another dear one criticized every dark-colored outfit that I own.

Fortunately, kowtowing to express persons’ assessments is not my issue. Mine is emptying my head of self-inflicted pejoratives. Besides, most of my beloveds embrace me for who I am. They ask about my health, not about my aesthetic transmutations.

For instance, my husband, with whom I’ve been paired since we were eighteen, bli ayin hara, too has transfigured. Into the bargain, he insists that my metamorphosis is a normal part of life and that each year we are together deepens his affection for me. If anything, in his eyes, my disparities make me interesting.

Similarly, my children and grandchildren appreciate that no amount of disability and no quantity of  adjustment to my waistline makes me less huggable or my chicken soup less tasty. They don’t judge my externals.

To boot, my friends are not petty. Some of them, too, put up with damage or with the aftermath of  disease. Almost all of them could not care less about superficialities.

Basically, the problem rests between my ears. I need to trust that my family and friends are sincere in their insistence that my degree of fluffiness does not and should not impact our exchanges. I’m still capable of lecturing to graduate students, of writing columns, blogs, and books, and of organizing Rosh Chodesh celebrations for community women. My kisses remain sweet and my willingness to listen and then to sooth remans even sweeter.

Walking awkwardly is no deterrent to my hosting Shabbot guests nor to my providing gratis tutoring, especially if the help that I deliver is given over Zoom. Moreover, any modification to my girth doesn’t prevent me from snuggling with my man or my generations.

Essentially, I need to get over myself. Not only am I epochs past peer approval/teen magazines, but I am epochs past having to resemble trending icons or elsewise to measure myself against media-promoted persons.

Truth is, I’m fat. Truth is, I’m hindered. Truth is, I’m every bit wonderful as I used to be, and, maybe, even more.

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.
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