You might not guess it, but Orthodox women are hiding something under those long skirts and thick tights: Eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia are generally associated with mainstream media and the pop culture that promotes super-thin figures, but eating disorders are problematic even in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish worlds. Girls (and increasingly boys, too) in these communities aren’t necessarily modeling themselves on celebrities, but they are trying to live up to to societal expectations for beauty and thinness. In a community where couples get engaged after only a handful of dates, it’s no wonder that undue emphasis is often put on the physical. A Forward article about the phenomenon of eating disorders in the frum community contains a disturbing revelation about matchmaking:
Very often, young men looking for brides in the Orthodox community call a girl’s parents and ask for her dress size. “If it is anything over an eight, forget it,” Abraham Twerski said. Twerski, founder of a drug-and-alcohol treatment center in Pennsylvania, wrote a book about eating disorders called “The Thin You Within You.” “Girls have become probably even more body-image conscious in the Orthodox community than in the general population,” he said. Wanting to predict what a young woman’s figure will be when she turns 40 or 50, some men go as far as asking what the size of the potential bride’s mother is. This obsession with physical appearance has led to an increase in eating disorders among middle-aged women.
In a response to this apparent epidemic, the Orthodox Union is producing a documentary titled Dying To Be Thin, about anorexia and bulimia within the Orthodox community. Many of the already available resources in this area focus more on media influences, which is less relevant for girls raised in homes without televisions, so the O.U. has committed to developing its own film for distribution to schools and synagogues affiliated with the O.U. in the United States, Canada and maybe Israel. The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance has a wonderful page of links to articles, books, and programs dedicated to eating disorders in the Orthodox world, but as was recently pointed out in a post on Dov Baer Forever, much of what’s being discussed has to do with very young, single women, but married and middle-aged women are also susceptible to anorexia and bulimia, and are likely to pass their eating disorders on to their daughters.