Summer has always been a challenge for me. Even as a young teenager, I was the one wearing jeans and a long mans shirt to the beach while my friends were frolicking around in skimpy bikinis and shorts. When I became religious, I put it down to my being naturally modest, but as that mask slipped away I was forced to confront something deeper about how I felt about my body. Weighing in at a scrawny fifty something kilo''s, I have no shape to speak of, but after carrying, birthing and breast feeding five children, I can objectively say I have nothing to complain about either. Apart from the fact that I believe a ''good'' body is a body that feels, senses and responds, and a ''great'' body is one that still gets you out of bed in the morning, I am also a woman in my late forties facing a mirror each morning.
I have observed that Israeli women in particular are very confident in their bodies. They strut around like peacocks, with a gait that expresses an incredible sense of stability and presence no matter their size, weight or height. Even the tiniest Israeli women, has a presence that says, ''I completed basic training, I''ve been to boot camp''. But the ones that interest me the most are those large dark heavy Israeli women that shake their sexy, skimpily covered, leopard skinned, cellulite asses on the beach in front of everyone, as if they were born in a brothel. How is it that these women have such a strong sense of their own power and beauty as women? And how is it that at such a young age they are able to transcend the fashion norms to which the rest of the world falls prey? Feminism aside I have no misgivings about the over sexualisation of their sense of self worth, but it does seem to come from a more primal place than the cover of a glossy magazine, and this is not entirely unhealthy.
I even see it in my own daughters who have taken on this body confidence in the short time we have lived here. Were we still living in Sydney, by now my nine year old daughter would be covering up her lovely body and talking of dieting and losing weight. Instead she embraces her body with a confidence and an ease that is perfectly healthy for a child her age, and she shows no signs of being pressured in form or concept. My older girls, all different in size and shape are equally solid in their bodies, dressing with a confidence I never had. And their friends all seem to be the same. Israeli girls wear their bodies well, no matter their shape and size.
What I find most interesting about it all is that half the women on the beach have silicone implants, which should imply an inherent ''lack'' of body confidence but the opposite seems to be true. They wear their implants with pride, and talk about them shamelessly, as if they were talking about their nails, which for the most part are also fake. Given that I am probably one of the few truly justified in making such adjustments to my body, (a decision I would take decades to process and never fully recover from), I slowly slip off my long skirt and quickly walk to the water hoping no one notices I am swimming in my shorts. The water is magnificent. I return to my bronzed, Sephardi harem of beautifully formed women, grab a towel and wrap myself up before anyone has time to notice the three light brown hairs on my unshaved legs. What am I going on about? I think to myself, these girl wax off a full moustache of facial hair once a week.
I find the most intelligent looking guy, which is not as easy as it sounds in these parts, and strike up a conversation. Thank G-d he speaks English. He is a radiographer who works in one of Israel''s few private hospitals. We discuss my boyfriend''s recent haemorrhoid operation, equipment, funding, politics, MDA fundraising, world economics, technology and life in Israel. His wife approaches. She is Iraqi, small, with dark skin and those beautiful eyes you see only in Disney movies and in the Middle East. She stands chatting to us for a while, her thin tall body confidently displaying that Israeli sense of " I belong''.
I realise that the core issue about being in your body is having a sense of true belonging. I think Israeli girls feel that here in this country, they truly do belong, and serving in the army cements that belief. It''s something intangible yet there is a certain presence about being here in this strange and confronting land. You cannot be half here or you will get your head blown off, either by a passing rocket or a Moroccan in the supermarket. Living in this country demands full presence, on the roads, on the beach and in the shuk, and even though on a deeper more spiritual universal level of consciousness this country is still asleep, at least when it comes to being alive, present and fully in their bodies Israeli women can answer to that call.