Dec 16, 2012

Fat and Happy

There was an interesting letter to the editor of Ami Living this past October.  The letter-writer was outraged by a line in a dieting article which said, " ... in the morning, you actually will look forward to getting dressed!" 

Why? Because she is an overweight woman who has no interest in losing weight.  She assures us that she does her best to lead a reasonably healthy life in which the drink of choice in her home is water and every supper is served with salad and vegetables.  She tries to exercise regularly (though she doesn't always get around to it).  She has regular checkups and her numbers are all fine.

She is interested in being healthy, not in achieving a certain weight.  She says she is happy, successful and confident and her husband thinks she is beautiful.  She is perfectly happy when she gets dressed in the morning.

She wants to dispel the myth that overweight people are all unhappy and want to be thin.  She concludes by saying, "Please stop telling me that in order to be happy with the way I look, I need to be thin.  You are doing a disservice to women everywhere.  Instead, adopt a Torah-true outlook that encourages women to make healthy choices and feel good about themselves no matter what size skirt they put on in the morning."

Yes, I'd like to get a look at this person who attempts to live a healthy lifestyle, whose numbers at the doctor are good and who is overweight nonetheless.  She does not say how overweight she is. Is it 15 pounds? 50? For it is possible for lean people to have poor numbers and heavy people to have good numbers.

She is right that our society's obsession with the scale and size is not a Torah-true outlook.  What's true is that if you look at pictures of Jewish women and men of previous generations, you see they are not as thin as people want to be today.  In fact, if those of yesteryear saw how thin people strive to be today, they would be appalled.  Years ago, this was considered unattractive and cause for immediate action, i.e. eating. So apparently, our outlook has changed and it is not because we've learned more Torah!


  1. The Gemorrah speaks of a type of neck jewelry designed to push up the neck fat to make the face look more full and therefore more attractive. Fatter people were more likely to survive times of food scarcity and famine and thin people were considered to be endangered. However, I have always thought that King Achashveiros, was a glutton. He was considered fat, even in a generation that considered extra weight attractive, or at least that is the way kids' books portray him. There must have been a feeling, even long ago, that obesity was wrong.
    Why, however, would a woman who feels better when thin, be considered not Torah true? Where in the Torah is that issue addressed? Self starvation is suicide and is a big aveira but dieting, riding a tread mill,wearing high heals, and the wearing of tight girdles, is considered normal female behavior. Apparently there are no prohibitions in the Torah for women to suffer for beauty. Women have been beautifying themselves since time began, even at the expense of their comfort. The pursuit of thinness is not prohibited by the Torah, anymore than wearing cosmetics or perfumes.

  2. The prohibition to harm the body is “V'nishmartem me'od l'nafshoteichem" (Be very careful about your lives, Devarim 4:15). When podiatrists say most foot problems they deal with are self-inflicted, then it doesn't matter how "normal" or common a behavior is. If it's self-injurious, the Torah prohibits it. Comfort is another matter.

    1. For that matter, junk food is self-injurious but the frum community sells it, buys it, and eats it. High heels are worn by most frum women and the halachic definition of risk would be that which the average person considers to be risky behavior. Smoking should be considered treif by now because all authorities agree that cigarettes cause health problems but because many Jews smoked prior to the health warnings, the rabbonim allow it.
      Shoe stores in some frum neighborhoods sell high heels and in others, they are probably considered untznius. I have yet to see or hear of a rabbi who prohibited high heels due to risk of injury or deformity of the feet.

  3. Because unhealthy things that are used only rarely or occasionally, i.e. eaten or worn on special occasions, are usually not dangerous.

  4. My understanding of the halachic criterion of risk does not involve the frequency that a risky act is carried out. Driving a car involves risk. Serious accidents have resulted in fatalities but that risk can occur even when people only occasionally drive or ride in cars. We are allowed to drive because it is the way of the world to use transportation. Most frum Jews today eat junk food daily. High heels can result in falls and injuries even when only worn occasionally, however, they are considered dressier and therefore preferred for more dressed up occasions. Fashion usually trumps safety. It is considered normative female behavior to sacrifice comfort for beauty but in some cases, there may be health repercussions. Still, when is the last time that you saw a rabbi declaring artificial sweeteners to be treif. Apparently many rabbonim feel that plastic surgery to correct an unattractive appearance is perfectly allowable, risk and all.

  5. Hard to believe someone doesn't care about being overweight. Everyone, unless they live in exclusion, wants to look as best they can and feel well. Extra fat takes its toll eventually on both aspects. More likely such an attitude is a rationalization to help convince oneself it is not important, when the real issue is the difficulty of losing the extra weight.