I used to struggle with huge feelings of insecurity about my size and appearance when I lived in London. It always seemed to me that ‘everyone else’ was the perfect size 10 (or size 6, if you’re American); that ‘everyone else’ had the perfect hair; that ‘everyone else’ knew how to dress stylishly, while yours truly just always seemed to be about as well put-together as a scarecrow.
But then, God gave me a little break and helped me to earn enough money that I could start buying clothes that were so well tailored, they could make anyone look svelte and stylish. Dressing expensively didn’t remove the problem of my low self-esteem and mega insecurity about my looks, but it helped me shift it on to the back-burner more often than not, which was a huge blessing.
When I moved to Israel, I hit a new clothing issue: none of my ‘stylish’ clothes really suited the hot weather of Israel, or the more ‘covered-up’ way religious Jewish women dress here. I have struggled with my clothing here for more than a decade, and every time I think I’ve finally worked out my style, or taste, either the shop closes down, or stops manufacturing long skirts in favour of mini-skirts, or fashion kills whatever nice skirts were being made last year.
That said, most of the time I don’t think so much about my clothing or appearance, and I very rarely have panic attacks about it these days.
Except for when people come and visit me from the UK.
And when those people also happen to be extremely wealthy, well-dressed, obsessed with labels and anti a ‘religious’ lifestyle, I find my anxiety shooting through the roof again.
I’m expecting a visitation from the UK shortly, and without realising it, it threw me back into a flashback of feeling like the fat, weirdly-dressed outsider again. But I didn’t realise what was going on until I came home in an extremely bad mood, because I couldn’t find anything to wear for the upcoming Pesach holiday.
I felt like everything made me look fat, or frumpy, or somehow not good enough, and that none of the headscarves would really ‘work’ for me etc. Man, I started to feel SOOOOO fat and icky, and then
I got very confused, because I couldn’t figure out how I got fat eating what I eat and doing what I do.
Even though I’m not a hardcore sprouted spelt person all the time these days, I’m still on the ‘healthier’ end of the scale, and I hate most sweet things (baring chocolate…) Could eating four ‘healthy’ chocolate biscuits and a bag of crisps on Shabbat make me fat?
Then, I started beating up on myself for not exercising enough because I can’t seem to get my life together, which segued into feeling bad that my house is so small, so I can’t really exercise at home the way I used to, which segued into me feeling like a complete, 100% loser in every area of life….
Long story short, by the time I got home I felt completely disgusting and horrible, and like I just wanted the earth to open up and swallow the whole mess called ‘my life’.
As I was moping on the couch, my poor husband decided to come home - and got a barrel right between the eyes. Why didn’t he tell me I’d got fat?!? How could he let me get so out of shape without mentioning anything to me?!? Why isn’t our house big enough for me to exercise in?!?! Why
can’t I afford designer clothes anymore?!?!?
The poor guy.
Another long story short, after hearing the whole story and seeing what a mess I was in, he was as bemused as I was.
“You’re really not fat,” he told me. “You’re the same size you always are.”
That’s what I’d thought too, until I went shopping this morning and couldn’t find a single thing to wear. As the meltdown continued, my husband suddenly had a brainwave.
“Rivka, you’re having a ‘flashback’,” he told me, rushing over to the fridge and grabbing the handy ‘flashback’ infographic-thingy I’d printed out and stuck there in one of my more lucid moments.
“This has nothing to do with now, and everything to do with how certain people used to make you feel back in the UK. You just ‘flashed back’ to how awful you felt THEN, and that’s why you’re feeling so bad NOW.”
Don’t you hate when the husband is right?
But right he was, and after five minutes, I begrudgingly acknowledged that he’d hit the nail on the head. I worked the flashback through, and I started to feel much lighter and happier again.
Just to be on the safe side, I also decided to cut back on the chocolate biscuits and to try to exercise a bit more as well, but today’s episode showed me two things:
1) Flashbacks can severely warp our sense of self, and our grasp of reality
2) Superficial, money-obsessed people from the UK (and elsewhere….) are really, really bad for me.
But at least now I know what’s going on, so I can stop ‘the flashback’ before it destroys my happiness and relationships.