Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part post. The first part discussed the tribulations of the author making it through a night with anorexia, OCD and suicidal ideation. The second part, below, discusses the author’s experiences in superficial Jewish culture as a demonstration of how Jewish society fosters self-image challenges and prioritizes the wrong values.
Fast forward to age 20. I moved to a Jewish neighborhood on the East Coast. My first day there I went out for lunch and my jaw just dropped. Was I at a pizza shop or a sheva brachos (post-wedding ceremony)? What I wear for Shabbos, they wore casually during the week. I couldn’t tell who was married and who was single, because the long curly wigs the married women had on looked just like that of the single girl who has to look tip-top for shidduchim (potential marriage matches).
The Image is What Counts
In this new community, I entered an extremely toxic work environment consisting of members of the Jewish community. The girl whose cubicle was opposite mine was half my size; yet, she would only drink coffee and complain about her weight. I couldn’t help thinking that if she were fat, I must be massive. My coworkers incessantly commented on how good the skinny girls in the office looked as well as on my food and my looks. I felt as though I couldn’t repeat an outfit without warranting their attention.
I will never forget the girl who showed everyone a picture of 80 dollar shoes that she ordered for her three-year-old daughter. I couldn’t fathom spending 80 dollars on shoes for a child who would soon outgrow them, let alone for myself. I thought, “Even if you can afford them – which I personally do not quite understand – enjoy your shoes, but there is no need to flaunt it to the whole office.”
When they weren’t judging people’s looks, the conversation centered around what they were about to eat, what they had already eaten, and what they should eat next. This culture of judging others’ self-worth based on the superficial only served to fuel my worst self-image challenges and anorexia.
The community’s dating approach was a mortifying display of superficial values and was anything but spiritually-based. A shadchan (matchmaker) once called me and said, “There’s a guy on your street and he’s perfect for you; don’t you dare ever leave your house looking anything less than perfect.”
Once, I drove three hours to see a shadchan with which I had booked an appointment a few months in advance – her appointments usually booked many months prior. I poured my heart out to her. I cried because I was so real with her about what I wanted in life. After the two-hour session, she said to me, “You need to wear more makeup.” I personally think I look really good with the natural look. I don’t like to wear a cake on my face! Her response was simple: “I am sorry, but I know what’s out there. I know what the guys are looking for, and I know which girls you are competing with. You don’t stand a chance unless you get your hair done and get more makeup.” She told me to follow up with her in a few days. I called her back and the first thing she said when I told her who was calling was, “Oh, hi, did you buy more makeup yet?” I hung up the phone and cried.
I called a different shadchan who asked for just my size and no other information. When I told her my size, she said “Okay, great, I have an idea for you! I’ll speak to him and call you back.” I couldn’t believe it. She wanted to match me with someone who I am supposed to live with for the rest of my life – solely based on my size?
I believe Judaism is supposed to be focused on the internal. What happened to sheker hachen v’hevel hayofi (charm is a lie and beauty is meaningless)? I am not currently looking to marry a religiously intense guy, but when I was, it seemed that the shtark (religiously intense) guy who learns all day and was supposed to have yiras shamayim (fear of G-d) cared most about adhering to appearances.
The Religion of Judging
It is shocking and hurtful to me to see what Judaism has become. At its core, it is a religion that is supposed to be about one’s relationship with G-d. However, my sister recently told me something that has rung true throughout my experiences in this Jewish community: “We are supposed to fit our lives into Judaism, but many people are fitting Judaism into their lives.” The obsession with physicality is not who the Jewish people are or were born to be; we were born to be with each other, not against each other.
We are one. We are Am Yisrael (the Jewish nation), and we must support each other for who we are internally, not what we look like externally. While it’s hard not to become victim to the societal values that have consumed our nation, we must resist them together. Let us support each other. Let us be strong. Let us be who we were born to be.
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