The Orthodox Obsession With Being Skinny Has To Stop
I grew up with parents that loved me, a roof over my head, and everything I needed to be happy. But when I look back at my childhood, one thing overwhelms everything else: the overwhelming shame, hatred, and disgust that I had about the size of my body.
Growing up I was told that I was pretty but I’d be beautiful if I lost weight. I was told by relatives that I couldn’t truly be loved unless I was thin. I remember going into a clothing store at 13; the store owner told me to lay off the kugel. My teachers in high school told me that I needed to start watching my weight if I wanted to get married. I was routinely given unsolicited diet advice by acquaintances.
Message after message was given to me as a child that I was not ok the way I was, that I was not desirable, and that I was not lovable because of the size of my body.
In case you weren’t aware, shaming someone into losing weight doesn’t work. People come in all shapes and sizes. But our society seems to have forgotten that. Apparently, it’s perfectly acceptable to judge someone by their size, often under the guise of health, when it’s really just plain, old fatphobia. The American Academy of Pediatrics took a strong stance against kids dieting because of decades of research on cases exactly like mine. The AAP found that putting kids on diets is harmful because of the increased risk of obesity and eating disorders. Studies show that children who diet will actually be heavier later on in life.
We need to stop putting children on diets and we need to stop putting our bodies down in front of young and impressionable children.
But if you go to any Jewish wedding or Bar Mitzvah, 9 times out of 10 you’ll hear diet and weight talk. When it comes to shidduchim, the first question asked is not what kind of person the girl is but instead what size she is. The rate of eating disorders is at an all time high, which is terrifying, considering that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
The obsession with thinness in our frum community needs to stop.
Obviously, eating disorders are complex and multifaceted issues, but as a therapist treating eating disorders, I’ve learned and seen firsthand that going on a diet is the single largest risk factor for developing an eating disorder. The emphasis we place on being thin is detrimental to raising happy children with a healthy body image. In a society where we are supposed to value the importance of our soul and doing mitzvos, how in the world did we get to this point where we’re judging people solely on their outer appearance?
Why are three year olds walking around calling themselves fat? Why are children going on diets at younger and younger ages, looking into mirrors and bemoaning the shapes of their bodies? Is this what we want for our children?
I started a body positive style blog because I felt it was important to show that we all deserve to dress in a way that makes us feel beautiful, regardless of our size. I originally started my blog right after receiving my MSW. At my internship, the social workers would ask me to take them clothing shopping during our lunch break and it was the first time it occurred to me that one could have a gift for styling. I started my blog as a creative outlet and was doing that alongside my work as a psychotherapist.
Three years in, I actually made the decision to quit blogging because I had gained some weight and was struggling to put myself out there in my new and curvy body. The torment and shame I felt at every photo shoot didn’t seem worth it to me anymore. There were some days that I’d come home crying because I felt so uncomfortable in my body.
The night I made the decision to stop blogging, I was reposted on Instagram by a big fashion brand. I started to see comment after comment on my photo from women saying, “Thank you for posting someone that looks like me,” “Finally a girl I can relate to,” and “So refreshing to see a pretty model with the same body type as me. More like this please!” Reading those comments as well as the daily messages I received from girls and women thanking me for giving them the courage to feel more confident in themselves, made me realize that I couldn’t stop blogging. It was then that I added the body positive piece to my blog and have been using my little corner of the internet to try and combat the constant diet and weight talk that permeates our entire society.
I’m all for living a healthy life. I personally workout 3-5 times a week and eat a balanced and mostly nutritious diet. But I will always be curvy unless I starve myself or go on a crazy crash diet. I’ve done my fair share of extreme diets but I refuse to go down that road again because I am so much more than the size of my body – whether or not our society agrees with me.
We need to take the emphasis off our obsession with weight loss and thinness and instead focus on healthy living at every size. Our community seems to have lost sight of what’s really important and we need to make it a priority to shift our way of thinking if we want to raise healthy and confident children.
Shira Rosenbluth is a psychotherapist who specializes in working with individuals with eating disorders and runs a NYC body positive style blog called A Sequin Love Affair.