Orthodox Women Behind the Scenes: Married At Every Size
“He has told me I am beautiful, that he loves certain parts of me; parts that I thought were unloveable.”
“He’ll be lying in bed, staring at me – no makeup, messy hair, in pajamas, glasses on, just staring at me because ‘you’re so beautiful.’”
“I didn’t think I looked beautiful, I didn’t feel beautiful. Until my husband. Now I feel more connected to myself as a woman, to my femininity. My weight is still something I struggle with, but he definitely helped heal something deep within me related to that.”
The Oxford dictionary defines that word as “pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically.”
Basically: physical, external and superficial.
Dictionary.com is a little better with “possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about, etc.”
But there’s one I like even more.
It’s not often that I quote Urban Dictionary, but in this case, I’m going to share my favorite definition I found there:
“People believe that being beautiful is the same as hot or pretty. It’s not. True beauty is personality or something so pure – like the shine in [her or] his eyes when [s]he talks about something [s]he loves, or the way [s]he dances when [s]he’s excited, or even something as simple as the look exchanged by two people who feel the same way.
Beauty is all around you. It’s the purest thing you’ll ever see, like a Californian sunset or a British countryside.
Beauty is a difficult thing to explain because there is no one definition. Beauty is everywhere and everything. If you look deep inside a person, you will see that they are beautiful – maybe not on the outside but on the inside.
Being beautiful is not about the physical features, it’s about being you. If you are being true to yourself then you’re beautiful.”
Beautiful is hard to define because it encompasses so much.
At a recent speaking engagement in Israel, I threw out the question of “What is beauty?” to the audience. Responses included “inner strength,” “character,” “personality,” “confidence,” and the like. The teens and women in the group nodded along as these words were suggested. Until one woman raised her hand and said, “with all due respect… I think we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that beauty is thinness and a certain aesthetic and a specific style.”
And I agree.
With all of them.
At our core we know that beauty is so much more than the external. It’s who we are and how we relate with ourselves and others. It’s our inner essence that is expressed through our thoughts, words, and actions.
And yes, it is also our physical looks.
Size In Shidduchim
We live in a society where beauty has been ascribed a certain set of characteristics, arbitrarily established by, well, I have no idea, and strongly perpetuated by every possible media outlet.
And if your physical aesthetic falls in or near that set of characteristics, you’re safe. And if they’re not? Well, there’s a whole world out there telling you you had probably better change.
But here’s the deal:
Research shows that diets are ineffective at best and harmful at worst.
With a 95% failure rate, you’ve got a better chance of climbing Mt. Everest than losing weight through dieting and maintaining that weight loss.
Crazy, I know!
So what about when you’re dating?
What about when you’re single and 19 or 27 or 38 and people are telling you that the reason you haven’t found your soulmate is because you’re not the right size?
What about when you’re continuously investing time and energy into your personal growth and others are saying that that’s just not enough?
As a single woman who began shidduch dating nearly a decade ago, I understand the pain of being rejected due to size, the hurtful comments from shadchanim, family and friends about weight, and the ongoing pursuit of thinness in an attempt to satisfy our community’s aesthetic norms, if just to “make the cut.”
Just to get a date.
Just to get some hope.
When “Fat Women Get Fewer Dates” went viral and the personal messages started flooding in, I realized I had touched a raw nerve. And so I went back for more. But instead of asking the singles which part of the system isn’t working, I decided it was time to hear from the marrieds.
I wanted to know whether weight played a role in their shidduch experiences. I wanted to know if their size was an issue during their dating career. And most importantly, I wanted to know what all that means for them now that they’re married.
The number and nature of responses blew me away. The vulnerability and transparency with which personal stories were shared raised goosebumps on my arms and brought tears to my eyes. I opened myself up to receive their stories… and they touched my heart.
But what I totally didn’t expect where the number of women whose experience with weight, whose relationships with their bodies, whose struggle to see themselves as beautiful, were greatly influenced by the men they married.
Fat and Married
Most of the women who shared their stories acknowledged that they were told by others that they needed to lose weight for dating. Sometimes the comments were explicit, sometimes they were implicit. But they were there.
They were made by shadchanim, by friends, by family members, by strangers.
That was the “before.” That was when they were getting ready to date or being set up.
What I found interesting is how varied the experiences were once these women actually began dating and met their husbands.
- Some women said that their weight never come up as a topic of conversation. Not while they were dating, engaged or since they’ve been married.
- Some women said that their weight was discussed during the dating period, but was a non-issue and it never has been.
- Some women said that their weight was discussed during the dating period, it was initially a point of concern, but was relegated as not important.
- Some women said that their weight was an issue while dating, but with time, its significance faded away.
- Some women said that their weight was an issue while dating, it still is, but as every marriage has its challenges, this just happens to be one of theirs, and does not in any way, shape or form indicate their husband’s love for them.
So, my single ladies, this one is for you:
Self-love Is Important, BUT
Pirkei Avot says: “V’ahavta l’rey’acha kamocha; and you shall love your fellow like yourself.” The implication here is that you need to love yourself in order to be able to truly love others in the ultimate way.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t love in the meantime.
That doesn’t mean if you’re not fully acceptant of every part of yourself you can’t be in a healthy relationship.
That doesn’t mean that if you don’t look at yourself in the mirror and think you’re absolutely beautiful than you’re not ready for marriage.
Because we’re human beings. And we’re complex. There is absolutely nothing about us that is black and white. And that’s what makes life exciting.
You can love and be loved.
You can love and be loved at whatever size you are now.
You can love and be loved at whatever size you are now even if you aren’t totally comfortable with it yet.
Single Ladies, Know This
I wish I could tell you that one morning our entire community will wake and realize that there’s been this mistake of epic proportions, they’ve seen the light, and they’re all embarrassed to acknowledge how they’ve fallen to the influence of physicality.
That they recognize now that who you are as a person, as a daughter and sister, as a friend and influencer, as a potential wife and mother, is really what they care about, and your dress size is not even a factor in their decision.
But I’d rather be real with you in our current reality.
So what I will tell you is this:
(1) It is perfectly normal to be exploring what it means to have a healthy relationship with your body and also wishing you were thinner than you are.
We are battling decades of misguided and damaging messages around our bodies, weight and size, and it’ll take time to unravel that whole tangled mess.
How you feel about all this is not wrong. It is your experience.
(2) This journey has its ups and downs. Less like a ferris wheel, more like a roller coaster ride. You’re never quite sure when the drops will come or life will throw you for a loop and everything will seem to be upside down.
Just when you think you’ve finally got the hang of this whole positive body image thing and you’ve successfully rejected diet culture… you’ll have a day that makes you question whether all the effort was even worth it.
I’m here to tell you it is. Those drops will happen with less intensity and will occur less frequently as time goes on.
(3) There is absolutely nothing wrong with you.
G-d designed us all with different bodies. There are short bodies and tall bodies, big bodies and small bodies, fat bodies and thin bodies. All are good bodies.
Just as we don’t tell all women that they should really be 5’5″ or a size 7.5 shoe, it makes no sense to say that we should be one specific size. The 70 billion dollar weight loss industry needs you to believe that we should all be a size six (or two)… or else they go out of business.
I’m all for entrepreneurship in general, but I’m totally ok with some of these businesses falling apart. Just saying.
(4) Different men have different preferences when it comes to physical attraction.
It’s true that there are some who simply aren’t attracted to women in larger bodies, and because physical attraction is an important part of any healthy relationship, we’re ok with that.
It’s also true that there are men who are attracted to larger women over smaller women.
And there are men for who don’t have a particular preference.
I’m sorry that the shidduch world makes it seem like all men only want thin women. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. I’ve heard it from men themselves.
(5) At the same time, you are so much more than your physical beauty.
Every part of your personality, the character traits you embody, the choices you make, the journey you explore, the chances you take, the work you execute, the accomplishments you achieve, the effort you put in, the middos you work on, they’re all a part of what make you you. And that’s just the beginning.
And that’s what your future husband will know and love and appreciate about you! Remember that. He WILL want you for more than just your looks.
(6) Your physical appearance may or may not be something to address.
If it’s not, sweet. If it is, you’ll deal with it and get through it.
You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for, and men are more human than we give them credit for. It’ll be ok.
(7) G-d is the Master Matchmaker.
He already pronounced to the world whom you’re Mr. Right is. He knows your address. And He’ll send your man when the time is ideal for both of you.
Let’s give control back to G-d.
(8) And when you find your soulmate, it’s ok to let him be a part of your healing process.
Married Ladies, Support Us
Married friends, please join me in the #MarriedAtEverySize campaign.
We all believe that our soulmate is out there somewhere. But with all the weighty messages (pun intended), it can sometimes be hard to keep a chin up when we’re constantly being told we need to slim down.
Let’s remind others that orthodox women get married at every size. Let’s provide chizuk for those moments where singlehood rares its head and things feel kinda sucky. Let’s make the positive messages of dating women of all sizes louder than the negative ones.
I invite you to share a wedding photo of yourself (with or without the hubby) using the hashtag #MarriedAtEverySize. Include as much or as little of your dating story as you feel comfortable with (weight related or not).
And don’t forget to tag me @fitjewess so I can reshare your post.
My goal is to have 100 women share their #MarriedAtEverySize photo within the next seven days.
Will you partner with me on this?
*Thank you Aviva and Shelby Dua for allowing me to use your wedding photo as the featured image of this article.
**To bring the dating related workshop “Size In Shidduchim: A Weighty Topic” to your shidduch group, shul or community, just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM at @fitjewess to discuss details.