Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Get With the Program Ladies

For far too many years the frum community in general has been placing pressure on its girls and women as regards weight and size. They've been playing a numbers game. You know the one--a size 6 is ideal and 4 would be better. Shadchanim are told what size range is acceptable, and it seems that the highest anyone can count in our community is to 8, on rare occasion. So pervasive is this idea that girls and women of perfectly normal, healthy weight and size see themselves as unappealing, as "fat," as "abnormal" in some way and head straight for the diet train. And far too many of them don't just catch that train; they don't get off until they've gotten a full-fledged eating disorder.

Some of this mania has been fueled by elements in the secular world, particularly in the high fashion industry. They have for many years been using ever more anorexic models to present their clothes in ads. Where once all clothing lines went up to a size 16 or 18 as part of the regular line, and no one, but no one was producing size 2 or 4 outside of a pre-teen or junior line, suddenly 12-14 is the upper range and size zero has appeared.

Well, despite some serious grumbling on the part of some fashionistas, the pendulum is beginning to swing back. Emaciated looks to be on its way out, and bodies with some flesh on them look to be making a comeback. For a good take on what is going on, please go to

Why post about this now? Some comments on another blog regarding the color black brought it on. It seems that almost all the commenters were hung up on black being a good color for a wedding because it was so slimming. Who doesn't look "right" and "good" in black. So whether or not you look slim enough to meet some truly whacked out standards of the community is the criterion for choosing an outfit now? That black washes the color right out of so many people doesn't matter as long as you present the thin look? How slim you look takes precedence over health?

I'm going to get really openly frank here, not for prurient reasons but to put a few things into perspective. A lot has been said and written about tsnius problems, particularly enjoining women to dress in less tight clothing, in clothing that is less alluring. Clothing that is too body-hugging is an unfair temptation being flaunted in the face of our men. On one hand, I can understand the reasoning, but from a practical point of view I just don't see it. Just what is flaunting about a black suit and a size 4 body? I've been married a good many years, and I don't think that men have changed all that much in the years since I was single. Stick a 5'5", size 4 woman into a black suit and just what is it that anyone thinks a man is going to lust after? Put a 5'7", size 4-6 into that suit and my question still applies. What seems to be raising prurient thoughts is "normal" women, those who have not starved themselves into stick proportions. We're telling perfectly healthy women of "regular" body type that they, themselves, are untsniusdik simply by living. I've looked at a lot of those women and what I see is not tight, "come hither" clothing; what I see is what used to pass for normal, and still should. Short of a burqa nothing is going to disguise when a woman has a bustline or hips or a small waist. Short of skirts dragging on the floor, nothing is going to disguise a pair of shapely legs, as opposed to bean poles.

A seemingly unnatural obsession with women and how they dress and look has not resulted in "better" tsnius in far too many cases but in body hatred and eating disorders. One pediatrician I spoke to a while back says that if you want to know why there is a statistical rise in problems with infants you have only to look at their under-nourished mothers. Some of these young women are so frightened that they might gain weight while pregnant, or are frightened when they are told what is considered "normal" to gain during a pregnancy, that they increase their dieting to prevent such weight gain, and yes, the babies are the ones who may suffer because of this.

It's more than time that Klal follows those who are now rebelling and saying that "twigs" are not a healthy role model.


Shoshi said...

Don't remember which publication I read it in (think one of the main ones though) but they had an article on how girls dormitories in colleges around the country always have more plumbing problems then the mens dorms. When they take apart the pipes they find them clogged with vomit from all the bulemia that is present.

I'm all for somebody changing the definition of normal back to something normal. I'm a 10-12 my whole life. Once had someone tell me that I have to watch myself because I'm borderline obese!

Anonymous said...

As the mother of a recovering anorexic thank you for calling the craziness just that. My daughter is not the exception. She had classmates just like her, who looked at themselves as fat and as unacceptable because some stupid designer didn't want to spend the money on a few extra inches of material in his clothes.

Yet another problem that the frum community (and the outside one) have caused but are giving almost no help for dealing with it.

Karen said...

I wonder how much of the obesity epidemic that everyone is reporting is due to a reaction to the over scrawny look that the media have pushed for so long? Sure some people are not exercising enough or eating too much. But if a woman looks at herself and sees that she is never going to look like those models or look like those with a smaller frame maybe she figures why bother to try at all?

I admit I used that thinking on myself and got overweight. When I finally figured out that the only person I had to please was myself I got down to a normal weight for me--never going to be a twig, just not built for it. But more, why should anyone tell me that I should look that way?

Trudy said...

People come in all different sizes and shapes. You can't alter your body structure and bones. But that's what the fashion mafia tries, and succeeds, in doing. They don't look at us as individuals. Okay, I can choose to fit into their mold or not, I can choose to buy or not.

But when we make size a requirement for fitting in, a requirement for a shidduch then we are taking away personal choice. And we create health problems too.

Years back we didn't have an obesity epidemic, yet average size was bigger than today. A girl who was a 10-14 was perfectly average and perfectly normal. The super skinny got poked fun at, got called beanpoles.

I look at some of my daughters' friends and wonder how they stay alive--there's no meat on the bones at all. This is attractive?

Miriam said...

All that emphasis on dress size is kind of strange. Back in the 80s the manufacturers here in the States and in Europe changed the dress sizing. If you were a size 10 in the 70s you became a size 12--they moved everything up a size. So if a woman was hung up on suddenly wearing a larger size she had to diet to get back down to that 10, which was really an 8. The dieting craze back then was in full force. And along with it we suddenly started hearing about eating disorders, about bulemia and anorexia.

So let's blame the clothing manufacturers first for all this craziness and then we can blame whoever started the thinner is better movement for shidduchim.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to whoever mentioned body type. My grandmother, mom and my sisters and me are all small built. At 5'4 we are all of us around a 2 to 4 in size. You wouldn't believe how many people get worried about me and tell me to eat and that starving myself is no good. I'm not starving! And yes it's nice to be able to find clothes that fit me. But I do see a lot of girls who are trying to get down to my size but aren't built to be that size.

I hate when a shadchan asks about a dress size for a shidduch. What does dress size have anythng to do with who I am?!!!

Anonymous said...

I wish you would change the title from "Get with the program ladies" to "Get with the program men" or "get with the program people." As long as men believe that happiness and/or status means a size 2 or 4 wife, then there is going to be a problem.

CW said...

I'm male and I don't like the skinny look so please don't blame me anonymous above. I don't ask for a size when I speak to a shadchan. From what I hear from my friends it's more their mothers who are making the size requirement then they are.

Shmendrik said...

>I wonder how much of the obesity epidemic that everyone is reporting is due to a reaction to the over scrawny look that the media have pushed for so long?

No, Americans' weights/BMI are considerably higher today than they were decades ago. I think the effect may be the opposite. People focus too much on skinniness because so many people are overweight, especially in the lower socioeconomic groups.

Lion of Zion said...


i've commented before that i don't think you can blame people involved in shidduchim (whether the shadchanim or the boys/girls themselves) for the emphasis on looks (at least don't blame them too much).

1) put 2 strangers in a room in any context (not just shiduchim) and they must by default make a first impression (even if subconciously) based on looks. so when two people on a shidduch/blind date meet the first impression will naturally be the physical one. the only way to counter this is to allow singles to meet casually.

2) #1 is made worse in the shidduch scene because shidduch resumes are basically from the same mold. there is nothing to distinguish one acceptable candidate from another. so when presented with 5 candidates who all hail from good families, have good middos, went to the right schools, etc., the only distinguish is by who is hotter (which by contemporary fashion trends means thinner).

NonymousG said...

Anonymous, I don't think it's fair to blame men for this awful trend, their/my perception of what is attractive has been skewed by fashion as much as womens'.

JS said...

Good post.

I knew many girls in high school and have met many women since who confided in me to having had eating disorders. The American culture is one part of the problem. But, the shidduch system is yet another. What makes the latter worse, is the hypocritical desire for a tzanua girl while focusing so intensely on her appearance and size. I'd love to see women start asking for a guy's pants' waist size or maybe a guy's shirt's neck size.

Wish I could find this article I read a long time ago that your post reminded me of. The authors discuss body image and perceptions of beauty over the past few decades. Interestingly, they chose to look at Playboy centerfolds as the authors believed Playboy reflected what society (or at least men) found attractive with the added bonus that Playboy kept statistics of the centerfolds measurements. Not surprisingly, they found a distinct trend towards a more stick-like shape away from the hourglass figure of a Marilyn Monroe (note that this was done with measurements of bust/waist/hip and not a "cup size" which the authors also point out does not make one have an hourglass figure and is instead "enhanced" nowadays with surgery as very few women are naturally stick figured and busty).

Anonymous said...

Eating disorders are not just about wanting to be thin and society's emphasis on certain types of physicques. It's a very complicated issue and can sometimes reflect a fear of sexuality and of their bodiesand of growing up(girls who starve themselves don't develop physically the way other adolescent girls do and many develop problems with their monthly cycles), so emphasis on tzuinus and sexuality being bad/dirty, etc. might be a part of the problem. For other girls, it's a distorted view of control -- controlling what they eat is the only area in which they feel they have control so they take it to the extreme. For some its perfectionism gone awry, or the only way they know to rebel since healthier outlets for rebellion are cut off.

Offwinger said...

The obsession on size is disturbing.

There are many healthy people who wear a larger size, because different bodies are shaped differently. Taller women of a healthy weight specifically tend to need a larger size for fit.

And while many retailers are not stocking sizes that range as high as they used to, the size scale in the US has also changed to make women today think they are a smaller size. The 8 of 20 years ago is a 6 today. This was a decision by manufacturers meant to make more women willing to purchase more, because they are happier fitting into the "smaller" size, even though the proportions are exactly the same!

I agree with your post about dress sizes and unhealthy body obsession. But I think this is also a relevant time to raise the fact that so many frum women are NOT healthy. What matters most is not overall weight or dress size. What matters for overall health is body composition (body fat %), where this fat is carried, and overall fitness level.

People naturally come in all sizes and shapes. But some sizes and shapes are unhealthy. There are frum women who are "skinny fat," meaning they appear thin and fit in a small size, but have no muscle mass, poor body fat, and are completely unfit to do physical activity. There are frum women who are overweight AND unfit.

I think we do a disservice to the women in our community to the extent we label physical activity and fitness as being not tzanua or unimportant. So while I am sympathetic to the argument that dress size should NOT be a matter of shidduch discussions, I also do not applaud a viewpoint that we should accept the level of unhealthy body type in our community, no matter the form it takes. Note the same remark is true for frum men, but this post was about women.