Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Have You Any Wool?

This morning while flipping through the paper, I found an article that quite unsettled me. 

It was in the New York Times Science section, stating how the rates of eating disorders are now higher in the observant Jewish community then in the non-Jewish world at large. Two factors were suggested - the insane shadchanim that, supposedly on their male clientele's behalf, demand size 0-4, and the pressure of being a primary breadwinner and mother in sitting and learning households. 

I am angry because if these two factors are the reasons for such a trend, which can easily become matters of life and death, then these are pretty weak excuses, in my view. I am angry that so many girls have such little self-esteem that they would succumb to such drastic measures. Who are the adults in their lives? 

 I have been dating for six years and counting; never has a shadchan inquired as to my size (and I am certainly not a 0-4). If a shadchan ever would call up inquiring such a thing, the phone would be politely slammed down. Additionally, I know that I would not be capable of being a primary breadwinner as well as a mother, so I insist on dating only men who work or are in the process of eventual employment (I am well aware that there are women who are capable of doing everything, possessing boundless energy and able to have a job and take care of the home; but not all women are like that, nor is it fair to expect it of everyone).

After the Holocaust, it became the slogan: "Never again will we be led like lambs to the slaughter!" I  find that comparison to be offensive, as well as inaccurate; those who speak it possess the smug confidence of hindsight. For what are many of us today if not sheep? Sheep go where they are led, not necessarily always to the slaughterhouse. Sometimes just for a good shearing.

"Sheepiness" ranges from the harmless - girls buying clothing that don't suit them simply because it's the current trend, to the dangerous - girls starving themselves. A few of eating disorder cases can be chalked up to be to due to inexplicable mental issues; but for the rate to be higher than the non-Jewish world, where anorexic models shimmy with open abandon? It can't be the fault of the media that there are frum teenagers living on a diet of chewing gum.

I know from a social worker working with the frum community that there are many yingvarblach whose babies are hungry. The mothers starve themselves, and the infants starve too.

I am sure the Eibishter can also use the argument, "If everyone was jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you too?" It shouldn't go so far. Peer pressure should remain in the confines of innocent shoe purchases.

I hope it is not because of the reasons in the article that such a travesty is occurring. But if it is, it should be remembered that everyone has a bashert, and that bashert would not demand ill health or mental breakdowns. 


Devorah said...

I'm sure there are plenty of healthy woman who are raising families the right way. It's just sad taht there are statistics saying that many girls have a negative body image and are starving themselves.

One of my teachers in high school used to say (if anyone asked her about a girl's dress size) that she doesn't write down their size in her roll book near the girls mark! Good answer!

Sefardi Gal said...

Great post. I'm surprised that the NY times "picked up" on this sad reality.
The issue of eating disorders in the frum communities perplexes and upsets me. I was in a sefarim store and saw a book by a Rabbi (if I recall correctly, it was Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser) about eating disorders.

On one hand, we're taught about tzniut and about how to respect ourselves, and how our REAL essence is our neshamot and NOT our bodies.
Yet, there is pressure. From magazines, media, friends, fashion, shidduchim, etc.

I've also spoken/met with quite a few shadchan, and only ONE asked me for my size. She was a bit nutty, though. And in my honest experience, she was the exception.

I think that with certain girls, even they didn't meet a shadchan who asked them, they ASSUME that the shadchanim and guys want them to be a size 0, and automatically that puts pressure on them to lose weight.
And some people really can't handle pressure and don't have the concept of balance (ie: healthy diet and exercise).

May HaShem help all of the Bnot Melech who are suffering from such disorders.

Princess Lea said...

Devorah - it's a percentage, so it's definitely in the minority, but any amount should be too high. And your morah had a great response.

SG - Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser is the one cited in the NY Times article as the rabbi to go to with eating disorders. I know he's a favorite of yours (is he the one you often quote?).

Of course shadchanim who ask such a thing are the exception, because as I mention I have never come across such a thing. But it could be as you said - that girls are laboring under a misapprehension. One thing I know about men - they are clueless about clothing sizes, nor do they know what it entails to be that skinny. If a guy asks for that, chances are he just overheard some loudmouth friend and is parroting it back.

The reported rates are high - from 1/19 in 1996 based on a Brooklyn high school, now 25% in 2008 based on a Toronto school. It's frightening. I hope they are exaggerated, or based on errors.

lawschooldrunk said...

Lea, although you may not be a size 0-4, you should add that you are (if my memory serves me correctly) quite tall (?). In that case, let your readers know that you are/can still be thin/skinny while being a larger size.

Sefardi Gal said...

Princess Lea - yes, Rabbi Goldwasser definitely is one of my favorite speakers/Rabbis!

It's true. Men really are clueless about sizes. (And make up...)

Those rates are scary! I didn't know the percentages are so high...
(it makes me think -- out of all the gals I know from HS, seminary, college, the community, etc., how many had/have to deal with eating disorders? If those percentages are accurate, then each frum gal must know a few girls with (hushed) eating disorders.)

Lawschooldrunk - what does Princess Lea's size have to do with this post? This post is about frum girls developing eating disorders, mainly because of pressure from shidduchim.
Her size is not anyone's business, except her own.

Princess Lea said...

Ahem, regarding my size - there are many factors that can affect clothing size. My size can range across 4 possible sizes depending on the designer. Then there is body structure (height being one factor) as well as bone thickness, then genetic predisposition. Eating habits are but one factor among quite a few others.

Sefardi Gal said...

Princess Lea - tzniut also has what to do with size. Something can fit exactly the way the designer intended, but oftentime frum gals need a size or two bigger (if the skirt/shirt is too snug or short)

Princess Lea said...

Also a possibility.

Anonymous said...

There was one girl in my grade who was anorexic, out of 120. Then again she was a very obvious case, not all eating disorders are so forth right. And while I don't find shadchanim or people asking for information seeking actual size numbers, they do seek sizes.

My brother recently got married, so I'm privy to a little bit of the other side, and I do know that my mother said no to 2 girls based on size - they were short girls who were over a size 18. I think at that point size is not relative. But I don't think most girls are concerned about their weight because they're a size 18.

Also, adding onto the commment that men don't know sizes - they don't! They just know what looks nice. Both my husband, and a friends husband are extremely observant and after we both had children when we were still quite large both husbands made comments of "wow, you're so thin already". And let me tell you, I and she were not thin, not by any woman's standard...girls (and their mothers) do this to themselves. Stop blaming the guys.

Princess Lea said...

Exactly! The mothers of boys are the ones attempting to control the situation by demanding 0-4 (seriously, do most men want to marry hangers?). They want "perfection" for their tattelahs, not knowing what "perfection" is.

A neighbor asked me if I would go out with a guy who was (among other things) obese. I said, "No, because to me it shows a lack of discipline." Being very heavy also has its share of many health problems - I know someone now who is going through the medical wringer because he doesn't take care of himself in that way. The opposite extreme also has dangers. Being over a size 18 for a girl is not healthy either.

ZP said...

Great article! (I reposted it on my fb wall).

Having been a madricha in a seminary and camps etc and just being in an only women college, I can definitely attest that the pressure to be thin is very real. Not only before you get engaged (i.e. in order to get engaged) but also afterward some girls drop weight very rapidly (which could have some detrimental affects in the future).

I am a big believer in being healthy and of course, trying to look (and be) your best (inside and outside) but I believe that a lot of this pressure comes from the misconstrued conception of a woman's body that some men have. Perhaps it has been influence by our living in a western society, but we tend to forget that the emaciated, undeveloped "look" is not healthy nor normal.

Our bodies are the greatest tools that Hashem gave us--we have to take care of it and that also involves, like you said, not being overweight but starving your body and letting all that pressure get to you, is very detrimental physically and psychologically.

lawschooldrunk said...

Sefardi Gal, Lea wrote, "I have been dating for six years and counting; never has a shadchan inquired as to my size (and I am certainly not a 0-4)."

So, in case anyone clueless may automatically think that Lea is obese, I wanted to point out that a tall, thin female is not necessarily a size 0-4. That is what "Lea's size ha[s] to do with this post."

Lea, some natural hangers naturally seek other natural hangers.

Last, I, a male, know a thing or two about female dress sizes. I have many sisters. And I know a lot about makeup the same way. I feel this gives me a greater appreciation than the typical guy regarding what my dates have to go through, in general, and also in preparation for dates.

Princess Lea said...

ZP - I'm a very firm believer in being healthy. I've always had to watch myself and "my body is a temple." I developed good eating habits early on because I was not blessed with an "all-consuming" metabolism, and it has definitely made my life easier to tackle this earlier rather than later.

lawschool - my fellow females (being female) know the other sizes available before obese. For the most part, size is relative to height - so being tall, I would actually be a bigger size than someone shorter. Even if I starved myself, I don't think I could be a 0-4; my build wouldn't permit it.

You have made your preferences for petite females quite clear beforehand - God bless. But don't speak until you are safely wed. You are also an exception when it comes to male appreciation for size and cosmetics - my brothers and even father remain somewhat clueless.

But remember: "With great power comes great responsibility." Do not use that knowledge for the Dark Side (yes, I mixed metaphors).

Anonymous said...

I keep seeing so many tiny-waisted Mommies of 3 or 4 or more. I find it very hard to believe that all of them are just naturally so thin after a bunch of kids. It's scary.
I also agree with Sporadic - my husband seriously does not notice if I am plus or minus fifteen pounds. It's the women we do it for.

Princess Lea said...

A psychologist friend of the family once said, "Women don't dress for men. They dress for other women."

Cheep said...

"Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it."
This is one of my favorite Austen quotes. Though women do dress for other women, it is not the clothes that will make friends like you more. People might appreciate your style, but without your personality, the clothes wouldn't make a difference to whether other women like you or not.

Princess Lea said...

That is a great quote.

Friendship is definitely not based on style. Fashion is for making impressions, but for true relationships, there must be a meeting of minds.