One of the reasons that I do not own a stitch of clothing from Abercrombie and Fitch is because their clothing does not come in my size. Mike Jeffries, the company CEO has been quoted as saying:
In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids... candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.
Inasmuch as Mike Jeffries is making a horrible statement, I don't feel like he is talking to me directly. But once, someone did make a weight-related discriminatory comment to me, and I have never forgotten it. Toward the end of my career as a rabbinical student, I had not yet secured full-time employment. The non-profit director where I was working part-time said to me: "Robyn, you will be a great rabbi. But you should lose some weight." Shock did not allow words to come out of my mouth right away. I probably said something like "OK, good advice." The man who said it to me was and still is beloved in his field. Subliminally, did I think he was right? Probably. I was overweight at the time. I always have been. But maybe I had not found a job yet because I was a single Canadian woman who did not play guitar. Each of those on their own was a legitimate reason that I was not an ideal first round pick in the annual rabbi draft.
As I enter my ninth year in the rabbinate this week, I know that I am an excellent rabbi. When I guide and comfort bereaved families, they don't take my size into account -- although, if I am not wearing lipstick, there is the frequent "you look tired" comment. When I teach, people turn their hearts to the words of the text or the dynamic conversation that reverberates in the air. My community looks to the rabbi as the one who embodies Torah and shares it with them. They don't really care much about the shape or gender of the person who transmits it and teaches it.
But nine years ago, I was green and scared and actually cared if dangling earrings were appropriate or distractions for Shabbat morning services. At that point I thought I had to "become" a rabbi, and did not yet know I "was" a rabbi. I thought I needed to look a certain way, and that non-profit director enhanced those initial ideas. I wish I had the ability back then to tell the director that he was being inappropriate. But I didn't have it in me yet. I had not yet read Lean In. I had not yet taken an OpEd Project seminar and I had not a few years out in the field to grow and learn what my rabbinate could be.
Thin does not equal cool. Many fat people have great attitudes and lots of friends. I should know because I am one of them. It is time for these stereotypes to be destroyed.
Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin is the spiritual leader of the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Queens, NY