I was on my way to school in the winter when the snow began to fall. I arrived in Washington Heights and trekked the seven blocks to the Wurzweiler Building, though I was barely able to walk; the snow was falling heavily on the ground and the roads were a slippery mess. By the time I entered the building I was huffing and puffing, sweating from the near mountain climb that it took to make it there. A woman got into the elevator a moment after I had and looked to be in a similar condition. We both panted and smiled at each other, understanding how difficult it had been to walk the few blocks. “Think of it this way,” she told me. “You burned off all the calories from breakfast!” My smile faded as I turned toward the elevator buttons.
Then, earlier this month, I attended a Broadway show with a friend of mine. I decided to buy a soda and pack of M&Ms, and sat down in my seat when I caught an adorable 3-year-old sitting next to me. He was eyeing my candy and I asked his mother whether or not he could have some. I was so excited and turned back and explained to my friend that the packet said Sharing Size and now I would indeed be able to share! The mother smiled at me and told me I could give her son a handful. As I poured the candies into his hand she said, “Just think of it this way, fewer calories for you!” I froze in my seat.
I have been met with comments such as these on numerous occasions. These women assumed that it was part of my lifestyle to be excited about burning or saving calories. I took offense at these women’s comments not because of my history with anorexia; not because in the past I lived a life based on calories and exercise. Rather, I took offense because this meant that they felt it was normal and expected for a young woman to be thinking about and being mindful of such things.
Nowadays, most women have been on a diet at some point in their lives. This is a reality that I have accepted, yet I still find it concerning; I do not feel that it should be considered the norm for men or women to obsessively watch their weight. I believe it is important for people of all ages to be healthy and consume a range of foods. We are blessed with a body to house our souls and this body should be taken care of. Still, this does not mean that once an individual reaches his/her teenage years or adulthood that a diet or thin-ideal lifestyle should be assumed.
Reflecting on these two incidents, I wonder if the same comments would have been made had I been male rather than female. Are women considered to be more careful than men? Recent studies have actually shown that disordered eating is on the rise among males and that 25% of those suffering from an eating disorder are males.
It is time to question this weight-obsessive lifestyle and question why these ideals emerge. It seems as if it’s almost considered abnormal to not be watching one’s weight past a certain age. I do not believe that watching one’s weight in most cases relates purely to health but is born from a culture that places too much value on appearances.
This can be even more intense within the Jewish community as issues of shidduchim (matchmaking) arise. Oftentimes, one of the first questions asked relates to appearances and therefore women are encouraged to diet and “beautify” themselves to find a good match. This, in some senses, promotes the value of appearance over character.
Am I against diets? No. Am I against the shidduch world? No. A diet can be healthy when done for the right reasons and the shidduch world has proven effective for those interested. Yet, I believe there is a value in challenging the “normal lifestyle” that predicts men’s and women’s preoccupation with appearance and wanting to lose weight as across the board. For those currently in recovery these values can be triggering. For those who may not think about this, this may put certain ideas into their minds of what is important. Children and teenagers pick up on these comments and then believe that this is expected.
I didn’t share those M&Ms because I wanted to consume fewer calories; I did it because I was happy to share and to make a child happy. Life is not about the calories or how many pounds someone may weigh, but about the memories, the joy, and change they may bring.
By Temimah Zucker