The following article is the first part of a seven-part series on shidduchim. The author can be contacted through the site. Use the follow button (on sidebar) to receive alerts when the next part is posted.
I am a 23-year-old woman. I attended 3 Bais Yaakov schools. I also made friends from other schools and towns in sleep-away camp, so I hear about what goes on outside of Brooklyn as well. Therefore, when I say that I believe that this is a problem across the Jewish world, remember that I interact with people who don’t come from Brooklyn. All names have been changed for obvious privacy reasons.
I believe that frum society cares too much about how much women weigh when it comes to shidduchim. Don’t get me wrong, some very heavy women are at risk of health problems down the road due to their weight. These women are not the women I am talking about. I am talking about women whose doctors feel that they are at a healthy weight. I am talking about women who live in Brooklyn and in smaller communities. I am talking about that 20-something year old single woman who you sit next to in shul, the one who is your kid’s kindergarten morah, the one who is working her tail off in graduate school, your everyday Jewish woman.
PART 1: HOW THIS STUPIDITY BEGINS
Guys, it seems, have heard of dieting and crash-dieting for shidduchim. Guys don’t want to be duped into marrying someone whose natural body shape is heavier than a toothpick. They want someone who is naturally thin, someone who will stay thin for as long as possible (or even better, forever).
Naturally, girls know what guys want, so they aspire to appear naturally thin, meaning that they aren’t on diets and they can eat whatever they want while remaining thin. This leads to girls obsessing over their weight as early as high school! As far as I can tell, this obsession with personal thinness keeps going until you’re married with kids.
When I entered ninth grade at a healthy 118 pounds and 5’ 2.5″, I was in the upper quarter of the grade weight-wise even though I was definitely not in the taller half of the grade. Since a few of those pounds were from all-night campfire parties, I dropped back to my default of 115 lbs. a few months later, but my ranking on the weight list hadn’t budged. I figured that perhaps my classmates had also had fun summers pigging out at campfires and so we had all lost the weight as a result of avoiding campfires for a few months.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My height peaked at 5’ 3.75″. I generally ate healthy foods. I made sure to eat my fruits and vegetables and avoid too much junk-food. But my default weight was clearly cemented at 115 pounds. I ate when I was hungry and ran for three miles at a time a few days a week because I felt irritated after spending all day in a chair. I was still generally in the 115 lbs. neighborhood, and that was fine with me. I was usually a size small or four depending on the brand, sometimes a six or medium, and rarely a two or extra-small. Female clothing sizes are arbitrary, but these were the words and numbers on my labels. Again, I was fine with it.
My classmates were not fine. My rank on the weight list kept moving up because they kept getting thinner and taller as we went through high school. We would go on Shabbatons together and most of the clothes I saw thrown over chairs or in heaps on the floor were sizes two or zero regardless of the heights of their occupants.
By the time I reached 12th grade, my Bais Yaakov classmates were very worried about their futures, and by futures I mean shidduchim (only 4 of us were primarily worried about college and scholarships).
Everyone wanted to marry a Top Guy.
It began with seminary applications; you had to go to the right seminaries to capture the attention of the Top Guys’ mothers. After all the applications were in, I breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps we could get back to subjects I found more interesting.
This was not to be the case. Yearbook photo day was coming. Everyone knew that nowadays the yearbook photo was not the only photo of you that any guy you’d date was going to see before the date, as there was the Shidduch Resume picture and (gasp) maybe even some pictures of you floating around on social media. The yearbook photo was still important though, it was a way to gauge your weight gaining potential, a final snapshot of what your “default” weight was.
By the time yearbook photos rolled around, my classmates were ready. They got their hair professionally done and had practiced being “naturally” thin for so long that all of their cheekbones sliced passersby, even the round-faced girls’ cheekbones. Their pictures were as hot as Bais Yaakov yearbook photos are able to be.
This high school experience should have warned me about what was going to happen after we graduated. It foreshadowed what the future in Shidduchim held in store.
Sadly, I couldn’t see the signs.