In some Orthodox Jewish sects, women must wear sleeves past the elbow and skirts (never trousers) past the knees. Slits are verboten (those are for harlots!): kick pleats need only apply. Married women must always cover their heads; most shave their hair off and wear wigs. You'd think with all this covering up, many would have a healthier body image. You'd think wrong! Jewcy.com points us to a Jewish Daily Forward article about anorexia and bulimia among some Orthodox women. According to the Forward, a possible reason for eating disorders amongst ultra-religious Jews is the practice of arranged marriage. "Very often, young men looking for brides in the Orthodox community call a girl's parents and ask for her dress size." If it's over a size 8, says the Forward, she may be headed for spinster city.
Some men go so far to ask for the dress size of the mother of the prospective bride, says Abraham Twerski, author of a book about eating disorders called The Thin You Within You. (You know, so a future husband can rest assure his wife-to-be will be able to shed the baby weight - and there will be many babies: Orthodox Jews don't always believe in birth control). The arranged marriages may be causing eating disorders for another reason as well: Orthodox women are encouraged to wed at a very young age, and some teens who are seeking to avoid marriage develop anorexia to avoid menstruation. No menses = no babies = no marriage.
As many experts note, eating disorders are often about control, and eating disorder specialist Dr. Ira Sacker told the Forward that Orthodox girls and women often want to control their food intake because in such a regimented and ritualized society, what they eat is the only thing they have any power over.
Anorexia remains a taboo subject in the Orthodox world, and as a result, according to Jewcy, "Married and middle-aged women are also susceptible to anorexia and bulimia, and are likely to pass their eating disorders on to their daughters." This is increasingly true everywhere, says the Independent. Apparently the pressure to "age beautifully" like Madonna or Sharon Stone has sent some older women into a shame spiral of disordered eating.
The Orthodox Union is trying to raise money to produce a documentary about eating disorders within the community, tentatively titled, "Dying To Be Thin." Jewcy points out that most mainstream eating disorder films focus on the media's influence on body image, but in TV-free Orthodox households, those messages don't resonate in the same way. Personally, I doubt many Orthodox Jews will be reading about up-and-coming model, willowy Ali Michael, who wasn't cast in almost any runway shows at Paris fashion week because the 17-year-old had gained a whopping five pounds from last year.
["Tefillin Barbie" Image via Jen Taylor Friedman's Official Website.]
Related: Wasn't Skinny
Supposed To Be Out Of Fashion? [Wall Street Journal]
Pressure To Grow Old Beautifully Drives Over-50s To Anorexia [Independent]