Friday, October 22, 2010

Matchmaker, matchmaker, am I too fat?

This is hardly news to anyone who has ever been involved with the shidduch system, but The Jewish Star is running a particularly disturbing account of the system-wide pressure on young, religious girls wishing to get married to stay very thin:
It happened just a few weeks ago. I was speaking with a Torah scholar and seasoned teacher of seminary girls in Jerusalem about my lecture series on how to eat healthy without dieting. She responded with, “We can’t have you speak here. The girls need to lose weight or they’ll never get a shidduch.”

“Excuse me?”

“You and I know that it isn’t right, but these girls want to get married and they know that if they’re a size 14 or bigger, they’ll never get a shidduch. You can’t tell them not to diet.”

“But dieting is unhealthy,” I responded. “95 percent of people who diet gain back the weight, usually even more. That is a huge percentage of failure. There are ways to learn to eat when hungry and stop when satisfied, and to have a healthy relationship with food – while maintaining a normal, healthy weight.”

“Yes, but will they lose weight quickly if they do that? They’re under tremendous pressure to be thin. They’re too desperate and they need to get married.”

I felt defeated. How could I help these young girls if their teacher – their mentor and role model – wasn’t willing to listen? I tried again. “Please realize that eating disorders are on the rise. Girls in seminary often become so obsessed with wanting to be or stay thin that they endanger themselves with chronic dieting, closet eating, and sometimes anorexia or bulimia.”

“Yes, I know,” this teacher responded without hesitation. “Do you know how many girls vomit now? And they say, ‘It’s only once a day, or only a few times a week,’ so they convince themselves it’s okay. I know it’s terrible, but what can I do?”

And still I was unable to convince her that these young women need to hear a different message. How could this beloved teacher prefer to ignore a girl’s self-induced vomiting instead of trying to help? I walked away shocked at the unwillingness to solve this overwhelming problem.

Unfortunately, this is never going to change as long as young Charedi men are encouraged to look for the best 'bargain' - an apartment, rich father-in-law who can support them, pretty girl - rather than the best wife.

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