Last night I went to an evening dedicated to raising awareness about eating disorders in the Orthodox Jewish community. The evening was hosted by Shearim College of Jewish Studies as a service to the community, and Shearim is to be congratulated for opening their doors to provide a venue for such an important topic to be aired.
The program featured the film “Hungry to be Heard” made by the Orthodox Union in 2008. You can see a preview of the documentary here:
The movie is made with sensitivity and honesty, pulling no punches about the problem as it exists in the observant community. I was particularly moved by the willingness of the women in the movie to grant interviews, and to be as brutally frank as they were.
The movie was followed by a talk by Dr. Carolyn Peyser, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders, and the author of the book: Body & Soul: A Guide for Addressing Eating Disorders in a Jewish Education Setting.
During the question and answer session, I asked about community responses to the phenomenon, particularly since anyone involved in matchmaking, or simply trying to introduce acquaintances, knows that the obsession with being thin is a major problem in the Jewish world. Dr. Peyser is clearly aware – and passionate – about the problem. She suggested that from every possible platform the community, and community leaders, proclaim that the obsession is socially unacceptable, and make the point whenever possible.
As I pondered the evening, I thought something more radical: what would happen if we, as a community declared a moratorium on answering questions such as, “What size is she? Is she thin?” Meaning, if I want to introduce a woman to a man, and he asks a question like that, I respond “I’m sorry, that’s a question that leads to an epidemic of eating disorders, so I’m not willing to answer.” Obviously, if only one or two people answered like that nothing would happen, however, if it became policy throughout the Jewish (and non-Jewish!) world, perhaps that would begin to make a dent.