Please Don’t Make Me Be Body-Positive

Please Don’t Make Me Be Body-Positive April 2, 2019

I finally finished watching Shtisel on Netflix. Took me forever but persistence and hard work paid off. I loved it.

If you ever are sitting around, binging on some fantastic series, and think to yourself, ‘Anne would love this,’ pause and ask yourself three questions.
Does it have a suspenseful plot?
Do people die?
Is it scary and sad?
If the answers to those questions are yes, then you’re wrong, Anne would not like to watch whatever you’re watching—or read it for that matter. Shtisel is the outer limit of drama for me. I found myself absolutely anxious about what was happening. If you watch it yourself, you’ll see how essentially mild it is and then understand that basically all I can read is PG Wodehouse, and all I can watch is also PG Wodehouse. What can I say, mine is a delicate nature. Don’t try to jostle me with your drama and your reality.

So anyway, right as the last melancholy notes of Shtisel drew to a satisfying close, I discovered on twitter that a famous actress is promoting body positivity by showing some of her stretch marks on instagram—by posting an unfiltered selfie, in which she looks beautiful by the way, to show you how ‘real’ she can be and that it’s important to embrace and accept yourself (#selfacceptance) and be the warrior that you are, etc. On twitter you can see the unfiltered pictures of other people accepting themselves, if you’re into that sort of thing.

All of which increased my mourning, because one of the things that was so charming about Shtisel was how there was absolutely not a trace of nudity or sex or anything—there wouldn’t be in a visual rendition of the orthodox Jewish community living in Jerusalem. Indeed, the driving suspenseful point in the final episode was that the protagonist painted a picture of a woman with part of her hair showing—her own hair. I won’t spoil it (although, if you ever want me to watch anything even remotely suspenseful, you have to tell me what happens or I will never ever ever bother) but it comes to a heart-rending conclusion. And also, the very word ‘positivity’ doesn’t figure. The word ‘negativity’ would be more useful describe the emotions of everyone.

Although the word ‘beauty’ certainly does lurk around at the back of the viewing eye. There is a stark, spare, almost terrible beauty about the women and what they’re wearing in Shtisel. It’s probably why this designer is getting to be so popular.

Why, I want to know, does ‘positivity’ mean bearing it all? What is so wrong with covering a lot of parts of the body that are stretched and worn by sacrifice and time, even and especially when those sacrifices have been worth it?

And really, why do we have to feel positive about everything? The very idea of sacrifice indicates pain. If you have stretch marks it is probably because something very painful happened to you, like bringing another person into the world. You might have been happy about that, but, as it was going on, probably not so happy. And as face your body day after day, and the physical reminders of both the joy and the pain, why can’t you have a jumble of emotions and thoughts and feelings about it? And why can’t all of that be for you alone? Why do you have to share it on instagram? Is it not real if it is not under the bright light of a lens?

I don’t like my stretch marks. I don’t feel positive about them. And believe me, I have my fair share. My body stretched out miraculously like a balloon, and then collapsed back on itself. Do I love the children that bore those marks on my body? Yes. You’ll be happy to know that I do. But I go on mourning the death of myself often. Joy and sorrow mingle together.

Seeing more doesn’t make it more real, nor more beautiful, nor indeed more positive. Accepting the fact that you have the body you have doesn’t mean that you have to lear into a camera, vaunting the fraught complexity of your whole life.

One of the most shocking things—though I feel bad bringing it up after watching Shtisel—would have been that Jesus hung there, naked, shamed, broken. The fact that he did so means that I don’t ever have to. My joy over that reality, and all the positive feelings I have, cannot be adequately expressed on twitter or instagram or anywhere. You’ll have to take my word for it that my spiritual-positivity has overtaken and swallowed up any body-positivity you are wishing I might have had.

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