Mayim Bialik and I have shared a special friendship and study partnership over the last many years and have collaborated on several projects at JITC, but it was super fun to sit down with her recently (28 min video interview below) to discuss something amazing she created – her new book “Girling Up” (which spent five and a half weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list!) and the Jewish values it contains. As the creator of one site (GrokNation), the mother of two boys, the author of three books and the recipient of four Emmy nominations (who got a PhD in Neuroscience in the middle of all that!) Mayim hardly needs an introduction – especially since half of you only heard of JITC because of her!
Mayim explained that she wrote “Girling Up” because there wasn’t such a book when she made the transition from being a girl to being a woman and she wanted to convey that it is a process. The stages that we go through as females can take may years: hormonally, physiologically, psychologically. The companion book, “Boying Up” will be out this spring. She explained that both books are about understanding the biology behind the behavior and making choices that make sense for you and your family as you become an adult.
While “Girling Up” was written for a general audience, Mayim included many traditional Jewish perspectives in it. It was born out of an article she wrote for GrokNation about being a late bloomer and then playing one on TV which caught the attention of Jill Santopolo, who became the editor of the book. The framework of the book was how to present an alternative perspective that’s also legitimate. Not everyone is doing what we see what a lot of teens do in movies. Mayim wanted to offer a way of approaching dating and sexuality that more closely reflected what she went through and show “traditional” dating in a better light for modern audiences. She worked hard to not be judgmental but also reflect what she experienced.
Mayim lamented that a lot of basic information is missing for girls and women about their control over their own bodies and their rights as women. “Don’t just assume that everybody’s doing it and we should too,” she explains. While the media may present one message, Mayim wants girls to be empowered to hear another. “If you’re not comfortable wearing something that’s really revealing, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.” As a fan of Wendy Shalit’s “A Return to Modesty,” Bialik asserts that modesty is having more of a moment. “It’s not a religious idea to not show parts of you that don’t make you feel comfortable. There are more and more girls who are now speaking up and asking for more clothing options.”
Shomer Enayim, guarding the eyes, is another Torah concept that Mayim puts forth in the book. However she presents the neuroscience behind it, legitimizing it from a scientific perspective. She also tackles the tough subject of coping with life when things get rough, revealing her own struggles with anxiety and how prayer helps get her through them. It goes beyond the fact that it helps lower your blood pressure. “For thousands of years, people have gathered together for lifecycle events…and also to get through difficult things. It gives me chills now, as I’ve seen this in other religious as well…at funerals and other challenging times.” When someone dies, as Mayim’s father did a few years ago, “we are encouraged to pray with a group of people. We are encouraged to commemorate things by forcing ourselves to be around people, because it is important. Scientifically we know that the coping and healing does happen well when people are in groups.” Prayer serves a purpose for health prognoses as well. “A lot of people’s health and psychology would really benefit from understanding this.”
Overall, the book also is a reflection of Mayim’s spiritual journey. She explains, “There was no other way in my life to actually experience the desire, the motivation and the skills to make the world a better on a daily basis. I have a purpose in life now. I have a God that never makes me feel alone. There are a lot of times in my life when feel really, really alone which I think people would be suprsied to hear, but I always feel that I will never be dropped on my tush and I never had that safety before.” When people ask Mayim how she does so many things she explains that because she is empowered with a purpose in life she wakes up with the heart of a lion to serve the Universe as best as she can. “That’s my truth,” she concludes, “and I’m so grateful to be living it.”