Often it is hard for us to recognize and appreciate the unique and wonderful qualities, talents, and abilities each of us is endowed with. It is challenging for us to be grateful for these things when sometimes, it makes us different from other people and hampers us from “fitting in”. We struggle with expectations – from our families, our teachers, our environment, and even our friends. There are expectations of how we should look, how we should dress, responsibilities we should fulfill, schools we should go to, and what we are supposed to be and accomplish. So, while our community values a strong sense of homogeneity, we still must find our own sense of who we are, who we are meant to be, and what we are meant to do.
Without finding out who we are and appreciating our unique self, we shortchange ourselves. We are unable to feel comfortable and accepted in our own skin. This, in turn, has been shown to suppress our individuality and lead to body image, body acceptance, disordered eating, and lower self-esteem issues. There is a sense of stress and constant pressure to live up to the expectations placed upon us. And when we swallow our feelings, we create issues that surface elsewhere.
There is a balance that we can achieve in respecting our culture and environment, but still discovering all the wonderful and unique things each of us have been endowed with. It is important for each of us to discover these things about ourselves but even more critical that we help our daughters, because truly we are not meant to all be the same. In fact, Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah warned that we shouldn’t “be afraid of discovering that the ‘real me’ may be different than the ‘current me.’” What an incredible thought!
I think Rabbi YY Jacobson put it beautifully when he said, “We must recognize the indispensable contribution of your soul, of your life, of your mind, of your body, of your gift. Each and every single one of us is an indispensable note in the divine cosmic symphony. The day you were born is the day G-d said that the world is incomplete without you. Without your unique energy and creativity. Without your unique neshama, your soul and your presence… Every one of us was born an original, we must make sure that we don’t die as copies.”
The programs we are implementing at Atzmi help our girls discover “and appreciate their unique self” as well as help them develop self-compassion, improve their body image, and reduce the focus on outward appearance. We help parents and teachers create this atmosphere and environment so that our girls can be comfortable in their own skin and can shine as they are meant to!