Family First Inbox: Issue 831| February 13, 2023
“See me as your wonderful, beautiful daughter and leave my struggles with weight for me to deal with when I’m older”
Sizing Is Off in Jewish Shops [The Conversation Continues / Issue 829]
Kudos to Miriam (Pascal) Cohen for her courage in highlighting issues related to weight. I’d like to bring up another issue, definitely related to the subject at hand. For many years I’ve noticed that the sizing of clothing offered by Jewish-owned companies totally differs from the sizing of non-Jewish companies. Our garments are sized much smaller!
I recently went shopping and wasn’t happy that I had to buy two sizes larger than what I normally wear. I tried on several items just to make sure that it wasn’t just that initial item that was sized incorrectly. I was upset and felt badly about myself. And I’m an adult. I’m into fitness. I eat relatively healthy. The fact that I couldn’t fit into my normal size disturbed me.
It’s amazing that we’ve come so far and now have creative members of our frum community with their own lines of tzniyus clothing. But the fact of the matter is, the sizing is off, and it’s causing angst and distress among adult women, teenagers, and young girls.
While shopping recently, I overheard a young girl in the dressing room next to mine sobbing hysterically to her mother that she was embarrassed to buy a T-shirt that was size 2XL. Only after the mother reassured her that she would remove the tag did the girl agree to this purchase.
I was shocked when minutes later I saw the young girl come out of the room with her mother. She looked perfectly normal for an adolescent girl. In a non-Jewish clothing store, she’d probably wear a large.
Why are we doing this to our girls? And why are we doing this to ourselves? There are young girls forced to wear adult sizes because the Jewish-owned children’s clothing brands are sized so small. Most little girls want the glitter and sparkle and ruffles of kiddy clothing, and instead, the slightly larger girls are forced to wear adult styles.
Why can't we let our kids be kids! Shopping for girls and teenagers is stressful enough as it is. Let's do what we can to make the process easier. Let's help the girls who aren’t size Small. Why can’t everyone feel good about themselves? Why do medium-sized girls have to buy the XL size? And why does the large-sized girl have to buy the 2XL?
This is traumatic for a young girl. She’s at an impressionable age. Why should we risk damaging her self-image and self-worth? This trauma can lead to self-loathing and, chalilah, eating disorders.
There are several Jewish companies that size their clothing properly. Thank you; I’m grateful. I invite all of our clothing designers, our clothing manufacturers, and our shop owners to adjust their sizing accordingly. We will all be happier and will be pleased to continue supporting our Jewish-owned clothing brands.
Face Reality [The Conversation Continues / Issue 829]
As a weight-neutral dietitian specializing in pediatric and family nutrition, your letter about your overweight daughter caught my attention. I’ve heard your concerns before from clients, as well as from friends and family members, over and over again. And as a mother of a seven-year-old girl, I really, truly relate to your angst.
I can tell that you care deeply to do right by your daughter. As parents, we want to pave a road for our kids that will be as smooth as possible. We know that in life, pain is inevitable, but we still want to insulate them and protect them from pain as much as we possibly can.
This is the conversation I had with a wonderful friend of mine. She has struggled with her weight for years, and two of her teenage daughters are also overweight (by our community’s standards). The ideas of body acceptance and weight neutrality resonate with her, in theory, but she said, “It’s all nice and good to tell my daughters, ‘Just be fat and love yourselves, but it’s so, so much easier to live in our society as a thin person.’"
To which I replied, “You’re right.” No ifs, ands, or buts about it (for now, at least). That is, unfortunately, the truth. But it has been shown over and over (actual studies and statistics are too long for this letter, but I’d be happy to provide them through Mishpacha if anyone is interested) that our weight is not as much in our control as we have been conditioned to believe.
So your daughter might be destined to be overweight, no matter how much she (or you) tries to change that (and in all likelihood, trying to change will cause her lots of health issues in the long term). Then, the reality becomes not, “For her own good, I won’t enable my daughter to be fat in a society that stigmatizes, shames, and mistreats fat people,” because that’s based on the false premise that if you don’t “enable” her to be fat, she’ll instead be skinny. Rather, the reality is, “My daughter might be fat. That just might be the body type G-d created her with, just like she has a particular hair texture/eye color/shoe size, etc.”
Given that reality, and the fact that we live in a society that still stigmatizes, shames, and mistreats fat people, I need to learn tools that will enable me to support her in the body she’s in, so when society stigmatizes, shames, and mistreats her for her body, that will never become her inner voice. Her inner voice will be strong and loud in declaring, “That’s their problem, not mine. My body is my ally, the one G-d gave me, and I need to be respectful and kind to it and nourish it.”
I feel so privileged to work in this field, where each and every day I help people learn to take care of their physical and mental health by respecting and being kind to the body G-d has given them.
I implore you to reach out (there are so many empathetic, skilled, and really frum weight-neutral dietitians I’m lucky to work alongside with!). There is a better, more helpful way to support your daughter. You’ve been taught otherwise, but her body size doesn’t need modifying (and neither does yours or anyone else’s).
Wishing you so much hatzlachah in this journey,
Shira Greenfield, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Don’t Say a Word [The Conversation Continues / Issue 829]
I’d like to respond to C.W.’s letter about her overweight seven-year-old daughter. The reason a “food plan” and “mother-daughter Weight Watchers sessions” are a bad idea is because the message you send your daughter is the following: “You’re fat. I want you to change.”
Trust me, she knows she’s fat.
You need to be her rock and support emotionally. I understand that you worry about her health, but you just have to let it go. Having “family conversations about healthy eating and portion size” with an overweight seven-year-old is a recipe for disaster. All she’ll hear is “eat less, eat healthier because you’re fat, and I want you to change.”
At this age, the only things kids need to know is that fruits and vegetables are very healthy, anything with sugar is for Shabbos only, and the rest of the foods are for meal times. If you don’t like her having second and third servings, then make sure there’s just enough food for everyone, except for salads. Same for cookies. Buy treats for Shabbos and freeze, give away, or throw out the leftovers. At age seven, you still mostly control where and when she eats. On Purim and Simchas Torah, don’t look and don’t say anything.
For exercise, arrange family outings and trips that involve lots of walking in forests and green areas. You should make sure the rest of the family doesn’t think that it’s all because of her.
Even with all this, there will be times when you won’t like what or how much she eats. At those times don’t say anything, don’t take away the food, and don’t give her meaningful looks!
I know it sounds like you’ll have to walk on eggshells, but trust me, you don’t want her to develop an eating disorder because, “Even my mother thinks I’m fat and ugly.” I understand that you would never say such a thing, but this is what she hears everywhere, so her home should be a refuge, where there are no food conversations.
I grew up fat, I know how any comment, even with the best of intentions, still hurts and sends me to eat more food because “I’m fat anyway.”
You sound like a good mother who wants the best for her daughter, but any change has to come from her. You can’t force or “suggest” it, because it will backfire.
Look at her other qualities. Find what she’s good at, and make sure she can shine. Your daughter will bring you much nachas, if you let her.
A Letter to My Mother [The Conversation Continues / Issue 829]
I’m your beautiful, overweight seven-year-old. You see me, you worry about me, you’re afraid of the challenges I’ll face because of my weight: the comments, the difficulty shopping, the self-esteem, shidduchim.
You want to help me, so you think, Let me take her to Weight Watchers, educate her on nutrition, restrict her food intake. But I need to tell you something important. I guarantee you that not one of those things will lead to weight loss or stop me from gaining weight. If you restrict my food intake, make it into a “thing,” even subtly, I’ll feel bad about myself, and then I’ll go and eat. I’ll stuff my face when you aren’t home, at a simchah, and in school. I’ll trade my erasers and stickers for Bissli and cupcakes.
You can help me though. You can support me. You can work on yourself to accept me for who I am, for the way Hashem created me, by honestly and truly looking deep inside yourself and accepting me as I am. By recognizing that I’ll be able to face my challenge if you fill me up, not with fruits and veggies, but with love and acceptance.
That means not being upset when I take a third helping of supper, not being embarrassed when I spend a simchah at the sweet table, and by never, ever making comments about my size. It means telling me I look beautiful in the dress you found in the third store you shopped in, without mentioning that the other dresses are small or tight. It means not feeling self-conscious when your well-meaning mother-in-law/sister-in-law/neighbor makes a comment or gives you a look.
Treating my weight problem this way is so much harder than taking me to Weight Watchers. But I beg you, please, don’t join the rest of the world who will see me as the fat kid. Be on my side. See me as your wonderful, beautiful daughter and leave my struggles with weight for me to deal with when I’m older.
Awareness Is One of the Answers [The Conversation Continues / Issue 829]
I’m writing in response to the letter G.J. wrote criticizing Miriam (Pascal) Cohen’s article, “We Have a Weight Problem.”
I, too, am a victim of our society’s views and beliefs on body image and weight. At the young age of 12, I developed an eating disorder, and have been battling it for the past seven years.
Do I think it’s completely society’s fault?
I don’t. But being told all the time that I was “fat” and needed to lose weight definitely contributed to my intense fear of gaining weight and my body dysmorphia. When I read Miriam’s article, I actually teared up and felt some relief. I’m not the only one who struggles with this?I thought.
When we read an article as raw and honest as this one, we have to ask ourselves what we can get out of reading it, how we can improve. It could make one person feel less alone in this struggle, and make another person more aware so as not to comment on people’s weight because of the damage it could cause.
I don’t believe it was meant to be either a joyful or even depressing read, but rather thought-provoking and a real story of a person’s experience in this day and age.
Another thing that really bothered me was how you said, very presumptuously, “It empowered no one” and “the horror stories did nothing to help the situation.” Please don’t speak for the thousands of people reading this magazine, many of whom this article helped tremendously.
I really do think that Miriam (Pascal) Cohen wrote the article very well, and in a way that many could relate to in some way.
One of the most important ways we can try to improve as a klal is awareness. Realize that what you say to someone else about their appearance or weight, no matter the intention, can have a negative impact on them. Recognize the signs of disordered eating and negative body image in young people and make sure they get help early on. These are all steps we can take to improve the society we now live in.
Hoping for much brachah and yeshuos for all of Klal Yisrael,
Not My Idea [Kindness Remembered / Issue 829]
I’m the mother-in-law mentioned in the Gifts with Grace story, who gifted her daughter-in-law’s older single sisters with pearl necklaces. I wanted to point out that the idea to give a gift the older single siblings wasn’t my own. I heard about the idea from Rebbetzin Shprintzie Landau at the shivah of her esteemed husband, Rabbi Aaron Hersh Landau ztz”l.
She said that when she became a kallah, her mother-in-law, Rebetzin Chaya Dreizel Landau, wife of Reb Yechezkel Shraga Landau ztz”l, gifted Rebbetzin Shprintze’s twin single sister with a gold pin. The story impressed me at the time. May the fact I could carry on her good deed be an aliyah for Rebbetzin Chaya Dreizel’s neshamah.
They Work Full-Time [Care to Connect / Issue 828]
I was very taken aback to read the responses to the woman’s letter about her difficulty davening. I commiserate with the women who don’t feel any connection to Hashem in their davening. However, I’ll assume the original writer and the responders aren’t part of the chassidish community.
I myself am a chassidish great-grandmother. I went to Bais Yaakov from first grade through seminary, and then taught in Bais Yaakov schools. I assume that most Bais Yaakov graduates understand the basic meaning of the words in tefillah.
When I had a household of small children, every morning I tried to say birchos hashachar and Krias Shema. When most of my children started school and I was left with only one or two children at home, I added birchos haTorah, which I said after my older children left to school. When all my children were in school, I started davening Pesukei D’zimra from Baruch Sh’amar, and continued onto Shemoneh Esreh, Ashrei until after Aleinu, and then Ani Maamin. Then I heard that saying the shesh zechiros is also important. I added that about 15 years ago. As of last year, I added Nishmas every day, as I heard from an important person that there is a great inyan to say this tefillah.
Davening takes me about a half hour in the morning, and at this stage of my life, I have the time to daven, and I enjoy it. I work Monday through Thursday from nine to three.
When I was younger, I didn’t work full-time like the women in the yeshivah community, who often work full-time, have babies, raise them, make supper, and clean the house. I think these activities are causing tefillah to become harder and harder for these women. Most of us are not superwomen. I feel that if these women would take a page from the chassidish community, they would find davening easier and more enjoyable.
Rebbetzin Lerner, my choshuve 12th- grade teacher, used to say that when you have small children, just raise your hands to Hashem and daven to Him from your heart, in your own words, in one or two sentences.
Malka Ella Teitelbaum
We’re in the Middle of a War [Care to Connect / Issue 828]
I’d love to share a vort I heard with the woman who wrote about her difficulty davening. The vort was on a clip from a shiur given by Rabbi Wallerstein ztz”l. He told a story of a baker who approached the Chofetz Chaim before World War I and complained that he woke up so early to prepare baked goods for his customers, and worked so hard to have all the items ready on time. But the customers would touch, sniff, and examine each item, and then many times leave the bakery without making a purchase.
Later, during World War I, the baker returned to the Chofetz Chaim and told him that financially everything was going well. The Chofetz Chaim asked how he could feel that way in the middle of a war. The baker explained that business had picked up despite low supplies because customers were happy that they had food to eat. No one was scrutinizing the merchandise.
Then, in a way that no one but Rabbi Wallerstein could, he yelled, “We’re in the middle of a war!” A war against gashmiyus, a war against the Internet, a war unlike anything any other generation has faced. When a tefillah goes up to Shamayim, no malach is checking, prodding, and poking it for kavanah. They grab whatever they can take!
Hoping this gives you as much chizuk as it did for me,
There’s a Silver Lining [Family Connections / Issue 828]
I just wanted to tell the girl (or anyone else) who grew up with a critical atmosphere at home (who is working hard not to recreate the same patterns in her future home) that I’ve been there, and baruch Hashem came out on the other side.
I want to give all of you chizuk that the pain will pass. I’ve also noticed a thick silver lining: You end up appreciating your husband so much just by him being nice and normal because you’re not used to that and don’t take it for granted.
Hang in there!
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 831)
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