Eat the Pain Before the Pain Consumes You
A long long time ago, at one point during the bad times, after my family kicked me out but before I had landed on my feet, I developed a coping strategy to deal with the blizzard of trauma and sorrow I was living through:
Eat the pain before the pain consumes you.
I could put away three boston crèmes, two jelly and a sprinkle donut in one sitting. A full kakush cake. A party size bag of potato chips. The food went in, stuffing back the hurt, pressing it down, like a manhole cover on a geyser. I even developed a technique, to maximize the amount of bingeing I could do at once:
Sweet, Salty, Milk, Water, Book
Take a box of sandwich cookies, a large bag of corn chips, a big cup of water and an Agatha Christie novel. Begin to read. Meanwhile, open a sandwich cookie, scrape the icing off with your teeth, dunk the hard shells in milk until they’re soggy and let them melt on your tongue. Repeat until ill. Then drink some water. Your blood will be roiling with sugar, so open the chips and begin to snap them between your teeth, one at a time. The salt will calm you down. When you’re sick of chips, have some water and switch back to the cookies. Repeat until all boxes and bags are emptied. Keep reading all the while, so you barely register the mounting sickness and shame. Keep reading all the while, so you only notice the numbing pleasure of food piled on food piled on food, that keeps the pain at bay.
I was still a member of the religious community at this point. Ostracized by my family, I still tried to fit in. I lived with religious people in a religious neighborhood, worked with religious people, was friends with religious people. I still believed in god and kept shabbos and kosher. I wanted nothing more than to marry a religious man and start a family. So of course, I couldn’t just binge. Because, if you want to get married in the religious world, it’s a lot better idea to be cruel, stupid and leprosy-ridden, than a chubby girl.
So I starved. Periodically. The first day would be the toughest, the withdrawal from sugar, from food, excruciating, every moment hungry and never-ending. The second day was also difficult. By the time the third day or the fourth day came around I felt emptier, happier, uninterested in food. If I could make it to five or six days on water alone, then I’d feel like an angel, so light, I’d float inches off the ground, so righteous in my self-discipline, so sparkle-brained in my starving delirium.
I wasn’t, at that point, a typical frum girl, but my problem was borrowed from the thousands and thousands of religious young women who were dealing with the same thing, deeper in the religious community.
On the surface, the problem seems to be about an emphasis on Hollywood-approved appearance, which is so cruelly hypocritical to the messages of modesty that any religious girl is suffocated with. Or it could be about the pressures these young women have to marry young and well, produce many children, and still hold down jobs. Or Post-Holocaust-era stereotypes about Jewish mamas and food. A surprising New York Times article this week discusses this phenomena of food disorders among women in the religious world, and suggests these potential causes.
But there is a deeper truth underlying this epidemic, that the NYTimes reporter can only begin to glimpse in that hidden community:
In a world where a woman’s reality is defined by ‘modesty’, obedience, conformity, and enslavement to the men in her world, oppressed into a silence so absolute she doesn’t even have the sounds to resist it, anorexia and bulimia and other food disorders are natural outcomes. Without words to speak, without people to listen, the only vehicles of communication becomes one’s body, with which one has a silent dialogue of all the things one can’t say out loud and that noone wants to hear.
In truth, the “ultra-orthodox community” is composed of many many different sub-groups. Did you see evidence of food disorders in your community of origin? If yes, why do you think they developed? How do you think this “western” prejudice for thin women was internalized by such an outsider-resistant group?Printable Version