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The Zaftig Diet
By Hayley Goldstein
My Yiddish-speaking friends have often affectionately called me “zaftig”. Kathryn Bernheimer hilariously defined this word as “I think I’ll skip desert, thank you”. Most people define it as “full or shapely”; others prefer to call it “juicy”. But, when it was originally used, Zaftig was a compliment. And, since the English language is highly influenced by modern American culture, where calling someone “full” or “shapely” is a severe insult, the word is best left undefined. If it must be translated, however, my favorite definition of Zaftig is “Deliciously plump”, from the Urban Dictionary. To me, all of these definitions describe a kind of living, not just a type of body. What does it mean to live a ‘juicy’ life? Contrary to Kathryn Bernheimer’s definition, I think it means “bring on desert, I only live once, and I love my Zaftig body”. After contemplating this word’s true meaning, I made a vow to myself to try and see myself as a beautiful zaftige maidela, a deliciously plump girl, and truly live a juicy life.
My quest for a juicy, zaftig life was forgotten and put on hold by a traumatic visit to the Dr.’s office. After seeing my weight for the first time in years, I broke down. As if that wasn’t enough, the Dr. came in to tell me that, what I thought was a ‘normal, healthy’ body, was mildly overweight and that “people like ‘us’” pointing at his belly, “need to know when to stop pigging out, park farther away from the grocery store so we can walk more, and tame that human instinct to eat too much”. As he went on to give a detailed description of a scene from “Dances with Wolves”, I looked at him, dumbfounded. At that moment, my ‘zaftig’ life philosophy went out the imaginary window of his tiny, florescent-lit office. As he left the office, I tried contemplating what he had just told me. I couldn’t have an analytical conversation in my head, though, as the emotions were too loud, and the tears drowning all logical thoughts. Several hours later, I finished crying and thought to myself “Why doesn’t this Jewish doctor know about Zaftig?”. In fact, what happened to Zaftig lifestyle in general?
I quickly did a run through in my head of what I knew about our culture’s obsession with ultra-thinness; Twiggy in the 60’s, all the way to sickly thin models 80 years later. Wait a second…there is no mention of Zaftig anywhere in that timeline. After a short pause of awe, I realized that it was not me, or even the doctor who was messed up. It is simply that our culture has been trained for decades that zaftig=horrendous, zaftig=unpleasant, zaftig=ugly, and at it’s worst, zaftig=unlovable. What would happen if the Zaftig philosophy was reintroduced into our culture?
I can see it now, the newest, hottest book at Barnes and Noble, “The Zaftig Diet”. The two words contradict each other enormously, but it would still be a great name. If it were up to me, the book would contain ways to live a deliciously plump life, make your life joyous, and love your body the way it is. If our culture lived this kind of life, and reintroduced Zaftig, in its most true and beautiful sense, back into their vocabulary, I believe we would be happier, if not also healthier, human beings. And, who knows? We might just start to love ourselves the way we are.
from the July 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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