The Conspiracy

Jewish Women and Eating Disorders

I don’t mean to sound like Jessica Simpson, but, until recently, I hadn’t heard of many Jews with eating disorders. I’m sure that in some capacity I thought that this severe condition manifested itself in the Jewish community somewhere, but I hadn’t ever really thought about it. We’re the people who love food, right? Apparently — I was wrong.

According to a recent article, anorexia seems to be a more prevalent problem for Orthodox Jews than other groups of Jews. It states that fasting at an early age has aggravated some young women’s conditions. In addition, “families worry the stigma of mental illness could ruin arranged marriages for the patient and even her siblings.” As a reform Jew, I cannot speak for the Orthodox community, but I can say that, if this is true even for some families, it is sad. Families should put the health and welfare of their children first, before any arranged marriage or thoughts of one. Moreover, how could any young woman be a good wife if she had a body image issue like this that severely inhibited her life? I believe there should be no hesitation in admitting that one’s child has a problem if it can help that child be healthier.

Another statement reports that “data from Israel indicates that body preoccupations are also a pervasive worry among Israeli adolescent girls.” That issue, though, as serious as it may be, isn’t a problem for Israel alone. More and more girls are dieting at young ages, convinced that their bodies must match the perfect shapes of those they see in magazines and on TV. Perhaps, as a westernized country, Israel follows America’s unhealthy lead in overanalyzing women’s bodies and in pushing stereotypes onto its female inhabitants.

How can Judaism help solve this problem of the rise of Jewish eating disorders? For one, as the previous article by Dr. Esther Altmann mentioned, we need to raise awareness that this is not just a national issue, but one close to our hearts. We should not let our sisters in faith go this route alone. However, in synagogues and at home, we can also send the message to impressionable young women that it’s okay to look differently than the models in the media.

Traditionally, Jews have been a very community-oriented people, and we can use that to our advantage to help young girls. Instead of letting girls deal—or not deal—with this self-esteem issue on their own, female rabbis or some women figures in local synagogues might want to make themselves available for counseling. Who better than a respected female figure of faith to help a struggling young woman through a crisis that deals not only with her body, but her mind? As fellow women, we should also keep our eyes and ears open for those who might need help. You never know when you could make a difference on someone’s life.

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