Overtime, I kept my ballet shoes and watched my feet grow. I looked up to the older girls who practiced after my age group in their special point shoes. I also noticed how thin these girls were. I took note of my own thighs and realized they were bigger than some of the other girls’ thighs in my group. When I carpooled with other girls and sat next to them in the car, my thighs took up more space on the seat.
At home, when I expressed insecurities about my body, Dad reassured me. “You have a wonderful figure,” Dad decided. “Same exact body as Grandma Lillian.”
In fact, I reminded my parents so much of Lillian Kamino that they gave me my grandmother’s Hebrew name, Soraleah, and were originally going to name me Lillian after her. In her childhood, Grandma Lillian’s father abandoned the family to search for his troubled soul in Los Angeles. Grandma Lilly, as we often called her, had a long history of dieting. She dropped ten sizes before being diagnosed with breast cancer. The trimmer Grandma Lillian was the one my father remembered.
Similar to Grandma Lillian, Mom dieted throughout her life. She complained about the size of her hips and her thighs. Mom strongly disliked cooking and food; she was, however, very focused on the importance of maintaining cleanliness, avoiding germs, and doing things to prevent cancer such as exercising and visiting the doctor regularly. At home, Mom did an excellent job with the chores; sometimes Mom worked so hard on the chores it appeared she was trying to scrub some dirty part of herself into non-existence! Mom taught me to make my bed with a hospital corner, asked me to set the table with placemats I decorated by hand before meals, and always put a note with a smiley face in my lunch wishing me a happy day at school.
Mom, who was passionate about the gym and working out, decided one day to try yoga. When a yoga teacher criticized Mom for her inflexibility, Mom’s negative feelings towards her body worsened. “I’m never doing yoga again!” Mom cried.
Seeing how hurt Mom was because of the incident in yoga, I came to understand that yoga and spirituality were dangerous practices. I was born and raised a Jew, and such was the extent of religion and spirituality for me. But, being Jewish made me different and had its consequences; unlike my Christian friends, for instance, my family had special rules around food. For example, because I was Jewish, I was not allowed to eat shellfish, bacon, ham, or pork.
“Be sure to choose the pizza without the pepperoni!” Mom reminded me before birthday parties. As it turned out, the one time I tasted pepperoni I decided it was yucky. Bacon did not bode well with me either.
We had additional rules around food at home too. Such rules did not have to do with religion, but with health. Mostly, what people were afraid of was the heart; the heart could get clogged and the heart could kill. When my sister and I joined a cholesterol club for kids at the recommendation of our doctor, “The Health Rules” were laid out loud and clear.
The first health rule was the saturated fat rule, which replaced red meat, eggs, full-fat milk, and butter with canola oil, margarine, fake eggs, and low-fat products. The second health rule was the chicken rule, which did not allow for the dark meat or skin to be eaten. The third health rule was the salt rule, which said that salt was bad and should only be eaten in miniscule quantities. There were also certain foods I was warned about or only allowed limited amounts of because they were bad for me.
“No cherries on top of banana splits,” Mom warned, “because of the fake coloring.”
“One piece of Halloween candy in your lunch a day,” Mom announced. She stored the Halloween candy in the pantry, and often ended up giving most of it away; otherwise, Dad noshed on it too much.
“Don’t let your grandmother give you too much chocolate, girls,” Dad insisted when Lisa and I spent time with Grandma Kay. “One piece is enough, if that,” he advised.
Overall, very little emphasis was put on the fact that food was important to help me build a strong body. Rather, the emphasis was put on those foods that were—according to my parents’ doctors—detrimental to health. Still, nothing made my parents happier than watching me enjoy food. I understood that my parents limited certain foods because they wanted me to live a long and healthy life, not because they wanted me to feel deprived.