Bodies and Their Critics

Emor By :  JTS Alumni Posted On May 8, 2015 / 5775 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective

By Yonah Kirschner (DS ’15)

“It’s hard to be content with the shape of your body when people are constantly telling you how fat you are, how much weight you need to lose, how much weight you need to gain . . . literally what do people want? The body shaming, the mean comments, the cyber bullying—all of this messes with us . . . and it hurts.”
—Cassey Ho, “The ‘Perfect’ Body,” Blogilates, April 17, 2015

Cassey Ho, a fitness blogger, recently posted a video she created in response to the many body-shaming comments she was receiving from critics online. The video went viral. It first shows Cassey, clearly athletic and healthy, walk over to a mirror, smiling happily. But as the video progresses, a barrage of unpleasant social media comments appear. Cassey’s hand then becomes an image-editing tool, and we watch as Cassey, now humiliated, sadly scrapes away parts of her body. The dejection communicated by the music and her facial expressions makes it a powerful experience for the viewer, difficult to watch as she mutilates her body into a caricature of the “perfect” body.

In the text accompanying the video, Cassey explains her motivation for making it, saying that viewers “will experience what it feels like to be constantly bombarded with outrageous negativity. You will see what it looks like to have your self esteem stripped away. You will read real comments left by real people. You will see me struggle with my own appearance.”

The terribly painful-to-watch Photoshop-scraping in the video brings to mind the rules God lays out for the kohanim (priests) in this week’s parashah. God makes clear in Leviticus 21:5 that the kohanim are not to cut their flesh, nor alter their bodies in other ways. It makes sense for the kohanim, the most public Israelite figures, to be prohibited from defacing their bodies. This kind of harmful attention to the physical body was a Caananite mourning practice, so forgoing such attention was an effective way of ensuring Israel’s distinctiveness. And by not focusing too much on their bodies, the kohanim were able to devote their whole selves to serving God.

The obsession with physical perfection has reached an unhealthy level today, to the point that Cassey Ho felt she had to dramatically demonstrate the shame that her critics had wrought. With body shaming and cyber bullying seemingly trending without end, Emor reminds us that our bodies are not the totality of our worth. When our bodies are healthy and strong but not the center of our attention, then we are capable of pursuing the higher spiritual purposes of our Jewish lives and free to do so.