This Is How Women In Israel Really View Their Bodies

Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Pay a visit to the beaches in Tel Aviv, and it may surprise you how similar they feel to the seaside towns in the U.S. Tourists and locals intermingle, women stroll around in sundresses and swimsuits, and people notice (and discuss) each other's bodies.
Photographer Mayan Toledano, who visited Tel Aviv for Refinery29, tells us that the women she shot and interviewed at the beach were more than happy to share memorable comments they've received about their own bodies. Overwhelmingly, the first remarks that leapt to mind for these women were negative ones.
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"It was the easiest and first thing they all answered, almost like they have been waiting to say it," Toledano says.
But the comments they found problematic weren't exclusively negative. In fact, many of the women said that even compliments made them feel self-conscious — or, as Toledano put it, "measured" against other women. "We don't have to comment on external things all the time," she says. "We can compliment each other more, but we can also just be in our bodies without giving it [so much] attention or seeking confirmation."
This conflict, between affirming someone's appearance and not wanting to make it seem like that's the only thing that matters, is something we're exploring all summer long here at R29. And unfortunately, of the 1,000 women we surveyed this year, one in four of them "loathe" their bodies. It isn't exactly comforting to know that women across the globe also struggle with these issues, but it's an important reminder that body negativity is an international problem.
Ahead, see Toledano's photos of Israeli women at the beach and read their thoughts on body talk.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Ray, 33, model and blogger

"At a very young age, I began wanting to change myself. No one understood why I was so obsessed with my body. I was the girl that the boys were in love with and the girls were jealous of. But it was very clear to me that I was too big to be worth anything in the world, and certainly to be a dancer. I used to wish that one day I'd wake up petite.

"When my body refused to change, I was angry at it. I felt like it betrayed me. I disconnected from my body and from myself.

"Only in the last few years, when I started seeing new images and different representations of beauty, I slowly found a new loving relationship with my body. As I worked as a plus-size model and researched this topic thoroughly, I became more confident in the need for our society to see diversity in fashion so we can learn to accept ourselves and others.

"Today, I can speak to my body with love and enjoy compliments from others as well. Self-acceptance connected me back to my body and brought me back to being a subject who knows she's equal. It brings me a lot of satisfaction and happiness."
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Tamar, 30, tattoo artist

"The best thing I've ever heard about my body was at yoga class, my teacher told me that I have a very good body for practice, and it really motivated me. The worst was when I was younger and people used to comment on my posture and tell me I need to stand or walk straight, it made me self-aware and not in a good way. I still remember those comments every time I catch myself sitting hunched, and I immediately feel embarrassed and straighten my back.

"I think out of insecurity. I always compare my body to other girls' and sometimes it makes me feel better about myself when I feel like I look better than other people. But I will never say anything negative about someone else's body, and I'm always happy to be surrounded by people who look nice."
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Aviya, 20, unemployed

"[I feel] positive [about my body] when me and my girlfriends go to the bathroom together at a party and we’re all enjoying our time together, taking pics and complimenting each other nonstop; thats my favorite thing."

"[A] less positive [memory was] when I was around age 12; I was a true tomboy. When all the girls around me started wearing bras and dresses, everyone thought I was a boy because of the way I dressed. It took me a while to take it as a compliment.

"When I address other girls' looks, I usually add some humor. When this subject is taken on a lighter note, I think it gets easier to look in the mirror with confidence; it makes it a little more fun."
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Tamara, 19, soldier

"Someone told me I should always remember that I'm beautiful objectively and even when I feel insecure, others see the beauty in me.

"The worst thing was when someone told me if I was thinner I'd have a boyfriend.

"I used to think and say more negative things and criticize people by the way they look, but today it's the opposite. I think I realized I want to hear good things, too, so it was easy to switch."
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Arian, 19, cashier, & Maya, 18, artist

Arian: "[The] best thing [is] whenever I'm naked with my partner and he literally says, 'I love your body.'

"I can't recall anything mean or offensive anyone's ever said, because it was never said by anyone I actually care for, only by people trying to hurt me, and I don't care about what someone like that would have to say, especially now that I'm grown.

"I'm always very aware of how I see other people's bodies, because I think it has an undeniable connection to how you see yourself. I used to be so hard on myself and had a very twisted body image, and I was always as hard on others, never out loud but I was very consumed by it. But once I let go of being so judgmental and hard on everyone and decided to be more positive in the way I see other people, I immediately started seeing myself in a better light. I'm 100 times more likely to say something positive to anyone because...negative stuff [will] just come back to me."

Maya: "The best thing was when I was told my body looks like who I am as a person and that it is compatible with my personality. It made me feel more connected to my body. The worse thing was when someone told me that I look weak.

"I always try to compliment the people around me, even if I don't really know them. I figure it's better to say something positive, because I know how good it feels to be complemented. Positive attention is always fun."
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Bar, 26, plus-size model and works at an advertising agency

"The best compliment I've heard is that I look like a real woman. People tend to compliment specific areas in my body (lips, eyes, hair, etc.), but when someone looks at me wholly and sees my body as feminine, it makes me happy. I feel less measured.

"The worst thing someone ever said to me was, 'You’ve gained so much weight lately that it makes it hard for me to wrap my arms around you.' At that time, that person was very close to me, but he’s not a part of my life anymore, since he couldn’t see me beyond my body size. When two people choose to live together, they should love each other unconditionally no mater their body type.

"I tend to surround myself with women and photographs of 'real-looking' people. Ashley Graham is someone I admire and look up to. I used to look at women my size and critique them for the way they looked, thinking, ‘If she loses a few pounds, she’ll be perfect.' Being active on different social media platforms, I became less critical and obsessive and more accepting of different body types."
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Mae, 27, writer

"When I was seven years old, I was standing outside my classroom, and an older kid pointed at me and said to her friend 'Wow! Look at this fat girl,' as if I was some sort of a performance act. That was the first time anybody spoke out loud about my body as if no one was inside. I see her on the street every once in a while. I will never forget, but I do forgive. She had her own issues, too.

"I don't remember the best thing anyone said about my body, but I do remember the first time I accepted myself with all of my flaws and wonders, and it was priceless.

"I'm very sensitive when it comes to conversations about other people's bodies, more so if it's insulting, wrong, sexist or simply mean. It's more likely for me to say something positive about other people's bodies (even though the first thing I'll say will never relate to appearance) and something negative about my own body — which I think is something many women can relate to. Society is shallow and we grew up on specific beauty standards. But we can fight the side effects. I'm very into complimenting myself at least once a day, even if I feel like shit."
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Yasoo, 20, waitress

"The best thing someone told me is that I'm shaped like a male sculpture. I have a twin brother and he looks like a classical Greek sculpture. Since I was a kid, I wanted to look more like him, so when I heard that about my body, it made me feel really good. The worst thing was when someone told me I have the potential to be fit and build more muscle but that I don't work towards it.

"Normally, I compliment people more, I love making people feel good. I think it's because I want to hear good things from people as well."
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Photographed by Mayan Toledano
Nitzan, 30, model

"The worst thing someone told me about my body was actually a few years ago. I was already a model, but just starting out. I was running on the beach, just about to finish my workout, when this man came across me and said, 'It ain't gonna help with your huge thighs. Stop eating,' and ran off. I was shocked. It took me like an hour to shake off that feeling. How can someone who doesn't know me make such a statement?

"The best thing happened on the beach, as well. This woman came up to me and said, 'You are beautiful, and the way you hold your body is just inspiring. I hope to achieve your confidence one day.' I smiled at her and was so thankful. I didn't feel like my best self that day and it changed at that moment. It made me realize that loving yourself doesn't mean that you can't have those moments of insecurity or the mornings you wake up feeling off. Loving yourself is just accepting you as you are.

"When I was a teenager, I used to look at models or celebrities in magazines and envy them so much. I would try tons of diets, and nothing made me feel as good. In my early 20s, I noticed that I loved giving compliments to other women. I was actually happy to say good things and realized I was helping them to see themselves in a different light. I love coming up to someone and saying, 'You are beautiful.' I think the more we encourage each other, the more chances we have of achieving the body-positive perception. It really is up to us."
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Toledano's work is featured in Body Talk, a photo exhibit presented by Refinery29 on display at this year's Photoville, which runs September 13-24. Body Talk explores the cultural variations of body positivity and the act of claiming space both across the gender spectrum and the globe, captured through the lens of female photographers.

Photoville is the largest annual photo event in New York City built from repurposed shipping containers, combining over 75 exhibitions, nighttime events, workshops and panels in Brooklyn Bridge Park. It is free and open to the public.
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